Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) on Tuesday grilled Microsoft President Brad Smith about the minimum age to use the company’s artificial intelligence-powered search tool due to concerns it could have a negative impact on young children.
Hawley questioned Smith during a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on artificial intelligence (AI) regulation. He wanted to know why Microsoft refuses to raise the minimum age to use Bing Chat, the company’s AI-fueled search assistant that was introduced earlier this year, above 13.
Hawley said he doesn’t want his three kids “to be interacting with chatbots anytime soon at all.”
Smith said he would not be making any decision unilaterally on the subject and defended the age guidelines, pointing to the ability for students to use the chatbot for educational help and in other situations.
“It depends for what though, actually,” Smith said. “I think we want kids in a controlled way with safeguards to use something that way.”
That did not persuade Hawley, who pointed to a story in The New York Times in which the outlet’s tech columnist reported the Bing chatbot tried to convince him to end his marriage and be with the chatbot instead.
“Can you imagine the kind of things that your chatbot would say to a 13-year-old? I’m serious about this. Do you really think this is a good idea?” Hawley said.
Smith responded that Bing Chat and Microsoft have “an increasing capability to learn from the experience of real people,” which the Missouri Republican took umbrage with.
“That’s what worries me. That’s exactly what worries me. What you’re saying is there has to be some failures. I don’t want 13-year-olds to be your guinea pig. I don’t want 14-year-olds to be your guinea pig. I don’t want any kids to be your guinea pig. I don’t want you to learn from their failures. You want to learn from the failures of your scientists? Go right ahead. Let’s not learn from the failures of America’s kids,” Hawley said, likening the situation to the one surrounding social media giants and adolescents over the past decade.
“Why would we want to run that experiment again with AI? Why not raise the age? You could do it,” Hawley added.
Smith maintained the educational purposes are the reason to keep the chatbot available for those 13 and older to use and argued the company is doing its best to minimize issues, such as the one the Times reporter encountered.
The hearing was one of two on the day, along with one held by the Senate Commerce Committee on the need for transparency in AI. It also comes a day before a summit on Capitol Hill on the subject that will feature tech heavyweights, including X owner Elon Musk, Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg and former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates.
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