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West Virginia Lawmakers Hear Testimony About Risks, Benefits of AI

Experts shared the benefits and risks posed by quickly emerging AI systems. In addition to the standard security concerns the technology brings, experts were quick to share some of the workforce efficiencies it provides as well.

West Virginia Capitol Building
Shutterstock/Sean Pavone
(TNS) — Now that computers have advanced to the point of being able to mimic human intelligence and decision-making ability, they're doing all sorts of things.

Recently, artificial intelligence, or AI, created an original song in the style of well-known rapper Drake that fooled many fans upon its release, with some even commenting that it sounded better than the real Drake.

Another advance in the technology came with the recent introduction of ChatGPT, a chatbot capable of human-like conversations, with a language model that can answer questions and assist with tasks, such as composing emails, essays, and computer code.

But the technology also has negative implications.

During interim legislative committee meetings earlier this week, West Virginia legislators heard about AI-related security and policy issues from several experts in the field who outlined some of the positive, as well as the negative aspects, of the advancing technology.

"As you look across the news, you can see that AI has kind of really dominated the press here in the last month or so, since the release of ChatGPT. You have world leaders in technology that are speaking up about concerns," CEO Scott Swann said during a meeting of the Joint Standing Committee on the Judiciary.

"You're talking about the engine itself that motors a lot of systems that we have and what kind of damage it actually could do," he said, "even if it's not actually a really sensitive system."

The Washington Post reported on a growing AI-fueled security concern among government and corporate leaders worldwide as attackers use artificial intelligence to write software that can break into corporate networks in novel ways, change appearance and functionality to beat detection and smuggle data back out through processes that appear normal.

However, security interests also will be able to make use of AI in a several ways, from improving license plate and facial recognition capabilities to using it to increase monitoring of security feeds.

"We don't have enough people to monitor all those cameras," Swann said. "[AI] doesn't get tired. It's going to be consistent with all the results. It doesn't have a personality or emotion, so you don't have to worry about that."

AI can hold realistic conversations, mimic the human voice and create images and videos. It has the ability to take the features of two individuals and create a photograph of a person that doesn't exist, as well as generate sophisticated text based on available information from the Internet.

Delegate Evan Hansen, D- Monongalia, questioned the ethics of allowing state employees or vendors to generate reports and proposals using AI-based programs like ChatGPT.

"It raises the question for me, a policy question, I guess, for us as legislators," he said. "Is that OK? To have state employees use ChatGPT to write a proposal or write a report? Or is it OK for vendors for the state of West Virginia to do that? Are there states that are regulating that? If so, where is the line?"

Ted Kwartler, CTO for Boston-based DataRobot, said that's likely a scenario legislators will have to face in the future.

"It's going to get more sophisticated," he said.

Swann said the chief concern regarding AI is in the supply chain. Networks are dependent on AI, so it's important that it comes from a trusted source.

"I would say you really need to understand and trust the people who build your artificial intelligence," he said.

That creates a problem, Swann said, since a large majority of the country's security technology infrastructure is dependent on foreign technology.

"That infrastructure is made up of the FBI, Department of Defense, Department of State, the intelligence community, several government agencies," he said. "When you think about the algorithms that power that system, it's 100% foreign technology."

China and Russia are consistent leaders in technology fields, Swann noted.

"This basically sounds to me like we are outsourcing and, in return, we're getting a Trojan horse," Delegate Mike Honaker, R- Greenbrier, said.

He said the ability of AI to monitor the cameras and microphones on portable devices is concerning.

"I stood in the hallway of my office one day, and I had a conversation with my secretary about office furniture," Honaker said. "Twenty minutes later, my Facebook feed was full of office furniture ads. So my phone is listening to me, everything I seem to have a conversation about. The algorithms are there. Who is hearing that? Google?"

Swann noted, "If you have a smart refrigerator, they have cameras. What could they be doing with that camera feature? Your Trojan horse comment, I think, is just kind of spot-on."

The implications of the technology are as wide as its applications. In the end, it will boost the abilities of both the good guys and the bad guys, Swann said.

"There are areas where you can rely on this technology, but you have to be smart about it," he said. "I have no doubt, there will be a time when you will need to look at this technology a little bit closer. You'll see trends across the country about putting laws into place with regard to artificial intelligence."

©2023 The Charleston Gazette, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.