Comment: Over-regulation of AI could hold us back in tech race

Policies that tie the hands of tech innovators threaten the advances we can realize through AI.

By Nataraj Sindam / For The Herald

Technology is evolving at a rate that has taken Artificial Intelligence (AI) from a concept to commonplace in relatively short order. Like world-altering technologies that have come before, the internet, mobile phones, and the Cloud were once impossible to grasp. Our innovative potential continues to grow; in a few years we will likely scoff at what we initially believed were limits to AI capabilities.

Washington state leaders seem to be aware of AI’s rising importance. Earlier this year, Gov. Jay Inslee issued an executive order establishing guidelines for state agencies to follow when dealing with generative AI. This thoughtful approach to AI principles is a great example of how to be cautious, yet curious, when it comes to a highly capable new technology. AI is here to stay; and Congress needs to prioritize the innovation of AI abilities rather than passing policies that would stifle AI growth and put the U.S. behind its adversaries who are actively investing in its innovation.

By handicapping the ability of our tech companies to innovate, the U.S. is threatening its position in the global tech race. A recent poll revealed that voters are worried that overregulation of the tech industry will harm competitiveness with China, potentially handing foreign adversaries an opportunity to weaponize tech against the U.S. This is unsurprising given that China has made it very clear it intends to dominate the AI space. Another red flag is the recent uptick in cyberattacks from global adversaries targeting America’s critical infrastructure, including an attack that temporarily shut down the country’s largest medical prescription processors.

India serves as a chilling example of the consequences of heavy-handed tech regulation. The country recently issued an order requiring government approval for all new AI models before their launch, a stark difference from its prior agreement that the government would not regulate AI growth recognizing how vital it is to India’s strategic interests. This new rule is a roadblock for entrepreneurs in India who are catching up with the likes of global leaders like Open AI, Anthropic and Nvidia. Such regulations restrict new entrepreneurs who are driving innovation and weakens India’s position in the global tech race. The U.S. should take note.

As a software engineer, I am deeply invested in the future of America’s tech sector. To better understand AI and leverage its capabilities, I’m dedicating 100 days to AI education in 2024, spending at least two hours daily learning about the technology and documenting my experiments, findings, and ideas with a series called 100 Days of AI.

I expect to learn a lot, including the strengths of AI and how its capabilities can benefit my personal and professional life as well as my home state of Washington’s economy. However, my action goes against the tendency to resist the adoption of AI technology due to its “unknowns.” The idea that AI’s capabilities will automatically overpower human capital and be a force of chaos over good is a mischaracterization of the technology’s purpose and potential.

When discussing AI, the need for human capital should not be underestimated. Rather than taking jobs away from us, expanding opportunity for AI calls for a stronger workforce. Over the last ten years, Washington’s tech sector employment has expanded by nearly 34 percent and accounts for 22 percent of the state’s economy, making technology a key driver of Washington’s growth. AI is a tool, not the solution. By investing in our tech sector and incorporating AI into existing sectors, we are evolving because of human innovation; not in absence of it.

AI has been a target of fear mongering, presented as technology that will accelerate the spread of misinformation, displace jobs and disrupt elections. Congress has covered the subject extensively, debating its wider implications in public hearings and committee meetings, not only leading to the consideration of shortsighted policies, but also a general sense of unease and distrust of AI.

AI plays a pivotal role in shaping the future of technology and if we rush to pass policies that tie the hands of U.S. innovators, we run the risk of sacrificing America’s competitive edge against global powers who are investing in AI to unravel its untapped potential.

As AI continues to evolve, it is vital that policymakers take a comprehensive look at potential legislation and consider the unintended consequences that could come from sweeping regulations and strict guardrails. We cannot undermine the value of innovation in our country.

Nataraj Sindam lives in Lake Stevens. He is creator of the Startup Project podcast and author of “100 Days of AI Series,” the goal of which is to democratize the benefits of AI. He has more than 10 years of experience in developing technology products in AI and cloud computing.

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