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In Pennsylvania, Much Talk but Little Action Around AI Bills

With the state Legislature back in action this week for the first time in months, there is considerable talk but little action on bills that could stymie harmful uses of artificial intelligence, or AI.

Pennsylvania State Capitol_DavidKidd
(TNS) — With the state House and Senate back in action simultaneously this week for the first time in months, there is considerable talk but little action on bills that could stymie harmful uses of artificial intelligence, or AI.

The bills involve concerns like visual "deepfakes," the use of AI in child porn, and consumer awareness that AI has been used in making products. A growing number of states are passing bills on AI, and Pennsylvania lawmakers have introduced at least nine bills this session involving AI, but none has gained significant traction.

Opinions on the lack of progress vary.

Republican Sen. Tracy Pennycuick of Montgomery County, who heads a Senate Committee that is likely to consider some of the bills, said lawmakers are being cautious. Any AI bill that moves forward should be a "good quality product" that will not have to be revised in the near future, she said.

But Sen. Lisa Boscola, D-Northampton, thinks many lawmakers are more concerned with election posturing than pushing forward bills that likely will have bipartisan support. Ms. Boscola said families have concerns about AI, and legislation intended to improve its use will pass both chambers.

"AI should be one of the areas where Democrats and Republicans get together and do something," Ms. Boscola said.

At least one estimate has projected the generative AI market will grow to $1.3 trillion within a decade. A high-profile example of AI lawmaking came last week, when the European Union gave approval to an AI law for the 27-nation bloc. It bans various uses including police scanning of faces in public using AI-powered remove "biometric identification" systems, except for serious crime like kidnapping or terrorism.

Grace Gedye, an AI policy analyst for Consumer Reports, said a lot of lawmakers are introducing bills across the country. "The sense of activity is promising," she said.

The lag in making laws for AI that is already in use, Ms. Gedye said, brings to mind the lag that followed the surge in collection of personal data by internet companies. "It took years to get states to start passing privacy legislation," she said.

Ms. Gedye said AI companies are lobbying state lawmakers, both openly and behind closed doors. Their arguments, she said, sometimes include statements that proposed laws "might kill the industry" or that the proposed laws require things that are technically impossible.

Such pushback, she said, must be taken with a grain of salt. "Those claims should be given due diligence at least by people who don't have a monied interest," Ms. Gedye said.

A spokesperson for the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, Berks County District Attorney John Adams, said the association supports a pair of bills that would add the phrase "artificially generated child sexual abuse material" to state law's definitions of child pornography. One was referred to House committee in October, and the other — recently introduced by Ms. Boscola — was referred to a Senate committee last month.

"This is another example of our laws not keeping up with technology," Mr. Adams said. "Historically, we have seen that it takes too long for our legislators to act on technology, and changes in technology."

State Rep. Chris Pielli, D-Chester and sponsor of the bill awaiting consideration by the House Judiciary Committee, said its point is to provide complete clarity in an AI-related child porn case so "we have a tight statute to prosecute with."

Asked about the multi-month wait for action, Mr. Pielli said, "It is difficult for me to understand why there is hesitation." One sentiment he has heard, he said, is the bill is the sort that is "creating new crimes" while another is that an uninformed juvenile experimenting with an AI program might be unfairly implicated.

Mr. Pielli said he is working on tweaks to his bill with other lawmakers.

Ms. Boscola's bill is similar to Mr. Pielli's, but it also includes a section that allows for lawsuits to be filed against AI child sex abuse image creators by parents of minors.

Another bill sponsored by Mr. Pielli would require disclosure to consumers that AI has been used to create a product. That bill has been awaiting action in the House Consumer Protection, Technology and Utilities Committee since August.

"If it is AI, it has got to say 'AI,'" Mr. Pielli said. "People need to know what they are looking at, and whether it is real or not."

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