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A congressman wanted to understand AI. So he went back to a college classroom to learn

A congressman wanted to understand AI. So he went back to a college classroom to learn


David Keppler
April 11, 2024
WASHINGTON (AP) — Don Beyer’s car dealerships were among the first in the U.S. to set up a website. As a representative, the Virginia Democrat leads a bipartisan group focused on promoting fusion energy. He reads books about geometry for fun.
So when questions about regulating artificial intelligence emerged, the 73-year-old Beyer took what for him seemed like an obvious step, enrolling at George Mason University to get a master’s degree in machine learning. In an era when lawmakers and Supreme Court justices sometimes concede they don’t understand emerging technology, Beyer’s journey is an outlier, but it highlights a broader effort by members of Congress to educate themselves about artificial intelligence as they consider laws that would shape its development.
Frightening to some, thrilling to others, baffling to many: Artificial intelligence has been called a transformative technology, a threat to democracy or even an existential risk for humanity. It will fall to members of Congress to figure out how to regulate the industry in a way that encourages its potential benefits while mitigating the worst risks.
But first they have to understand what AI is, and what it isn’t.
“I tend to be an AI optimist,” Beyer told The Associated Press following a recent afternoon class on George Mason’s campus in suburban Virginia. “We can’t even imagine how different our lives will be in five years, 10 years, 20 years, because of AI… There won’t be robots with red eyes coming after us any time soon. But there are other deeper existential risks that we need to pay attention to.”
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