Don Beyer’s Journey: A Senior Lawmaker’s Pursuit of AI Knowledge

Don Beyer, a 73-year-old Virginia Democrat, defies the stereotype of an average student at George Mason University. With a preference for traditional note-taking using a notebook and pen over a laptop, Beyer embarked on a unique journey in pursuit of knowledge about artificial intelligence (AI). As a top lawmaker on AI policy in Congress, Beyer recognized the significance of understanding AI and its implications, leading him to enroll in computer science classes at George Mason University. Even amidst his responsibilities as a lawmaker, his dedication to his coursework is inspiring and has already yielded benefits in his understanding of coding and the complexities of AI.

Beyer is not just an observer, but an active participant in the world of AI legislation. He plays a vital role in numerous groups of House lawmakers working on AI, including his position as the vice chair of the bipartisan Congressional Artificial Intelligence Caucus and a newer AI working group established by The New Democrat Coalition. He had also contributed to former Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s working group on AI, which could potentially be revived under the current Speaker Mike Johnson. Furthermore, Beyer spearheads a bill that aims to expand access to high-powered computational tools necessary for AI development.

As the rest of Congress rushed to familiarize themselves with AI through various hearings and forums, Beyer’s time in the classroom has offered him a unique perspective on the inner workings of AI. By engaging in coursework, he gains a deeper understanding of coding, big datasets, and the potential unintended consequences associated with AI. Beyer emphasizes the importance of rigorous debugging and illustrates how even the smallest mistakes can lead to significant impacts on code. This firsthand experience highlights the imperfections of technology and reinforces the need to address the downside risks associated with AI.

The challenge Congress faces lies in the forward trajectory of AI. Congressman Jay Obernolte, who previously worked with Beyer on McCarthy’s AI working group, anticipates the revival of an AI group under Speaker Johnson, once immediate priorities like government funding are addressed. Congress must determine various avenues to approach AI policy, including the implementation of digital privacy protections, the establishment of a federal agency to oversee AI, or the delegation of AI-related responsibilities to existing agencies. Obernolte highlights Beyer’s expertise and passion for AI, reflecting the presence of knowledgeable lawmakers on this subject.

The dissemination of AI-generated videos and photos depicting events that never occurred or statements never made by real individuals poses a significant concern for Congress, particularly with regard to its potential impact on elections. Congressman Derek Kilmer, who chairs The New Democrats’ AI working group, emphasizes the urgency to minimize the spread of misleading or false media given the upcoming 2024 elections. The potential implications for the integrity of public discourse and democracy drive the necessity for decisive action.

Don Beyer, however, expresses his concerns regarding the pace at which Congress is addressing the evolution of AI models. He advocates for proactive legislation to avoid repeating the failures of unregulated social media platforms. Beyer acknowledges the positive effects of social media but also highlights the alarming dangers of misinformation and disinformation. While Beyer recognizes the challenges of advancing AI legislation amid budget fights and leadership transitions, he remains hopeful that progress can be made before the 2024 election.

Don Beyer’s journey through the world of AI at George Mason University exemplifies a lifelong commitment to learning. As an esteemed lawmaker on AI policy, Beyer’s immersion in computer science classes offers him a unique insight into the intricacies of AI and coding. His participation in various AI working groups demonstrates his dedication to shaping effective legislation in this rapidly evolving field. Beyer’s own experiences with debugging serve as a reminder of the imperfections of technology and the need to safeguard against its potential risks. As Congress grapples with the impact of AI, particularly in relation to misleading media and public discourse, Beyer’s expertise and passion are invaluable. The urgency to address AI-related issues quickly and effectively echoes throughout Congress, driven by the upcoming 2024 election and the challenges posed by AI-powered advancements. While hurdles may arise, Beyer’s optimism remains intact as he hopes to steer Congress towards proactive legislation in the realm of AI before the nation casts its votes in 2024.


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