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House launching bipartisan AI task force

The House announced Tuesday that it would be launching a bipartisan task force centered on artificial intelligence (AI).

In a release, Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) said he, along with Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), appointed 12 members each to sit on the task force.

The research panel will be chaired by Reps. Jay Obernolte (R-Calif.) and Ted Lieu (D-Calif.). The group will produce a report that will include recommendations for the future and bipartisan policy proposals related to AI.

The mission of the task force is to ensure that the United States is leading the world in AI innovation, but also considers the “guardrails that may be appropriate” as the widely-popular emerging technology continues to raise potential security concerns.

“Because advancements in artificial intelligence have the potential to rapidly transform our economy and our society, it is important for Congress to work in a bipartisan manner to understand and plan for both the promises and the complexities of this transformative technology,” Johnson said in a statement.

The announcement of the task force comes just a month after a bipartisan group of lawmakers said they would be creating a “Working Group” on AI. The group intends to examine how AI impacts the financial services, housing and business markets and operations.

Lawmakers have appeared tentative about regulating the emerging tech and its potential threats heading into an election year. After a year of hearings and forums that have discussed the risks and benefits of AI, experts have said its time for Congress to act, while many have said they are already behind.

Last September, more than 60 senators met with a panel of tech CEO’s about the use of AI at their companies. Tesla and X CEO Elon Musk, Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, were in attendance. Though there was expressed interest in finding solutions, attendees said the hearing centered around broad discussion and lacked consensus on how to regulate AI properly.

Jeffries said in a statement that “certain guardrails” are necessary to protect the public. He said bipartisan solutions are necessary to protect people from “bad actors” who may exploit the emerging tech.

“The Members appointed to this Task Force bring a wide range of experience and expertise across the committees of jurisdiction and I look forward to working with them to tackle these issues in a bipartisan way,” he wrote.

Last October, President Biden signed a sweeping executive order that focuses on AI and managing its risks.

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EU opens formal investigation into TikTok's impact on minors 

The European Commission opened a formal investigation to review whether the social media app TikTok violated new rules in place that aim to protect minors online, it announced Monday.  

The investigation will review if TikTok, owned by the Chinese-based parent company ByteDance, breached the Digital Services Act (DSA), the EU’s new online children protection rule that went into effect Saturday, by its platform design and privacy settings.  

If the commission establishes a breach of the DSA, it could impose a fine of up to 6 percent of the global revenue of the company.  

The formal proceeding launched Monday followed a preliminary investigation conducted in September, according to the commission.  

The proceeding will focus on TikTok’s algorithmic systems, including systems “that may stimulate behavioral addictions and/ or create so-called ‘rabbit hole effects,’” according to the announcement.  

The probe will also review if TikTok has put in place appropriate measures to “ensure a high level of privacy, safety and security for minors,” and if the platform is compliant with DSA obligations to provide a searchable repository for advertisements.  

A TikTok spokesperson said the company will continue to work with experts and the industry to “keep young people on TikTok safe” and explain this work in detail to the commission.

“TikTok has pioneered features and settings to protect teens and keep under 13s off the platform, issues the whole industry is grappling with,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

This story was updated at 3:11 p.m.

Haley knocks Trump on TikTok concerns

GOP presidential candidate Nikki Haley reiterated her call to ban TikTok on Sunday, citing privacy concerns with the social media app after President Biden’s campaign joined earlier this month.

During a Fox News town hall with “America Reports” co-anchor John Roberts on Sunday, Haley took aim at TikTok for being “incredibly dangerous” and said the U.S. should have banned it from the start. When asked if Republicans should join TikTok to engage with younger voters after Biden’s campaign posted on the platform for the first time during the Super Bowl, Haley criticized the app and jabbed former President Trump for not banning it.

“Well, President Trump said he would ban TikTok, and then when President Xi asked him not to, that fell to the wayside,” she said during the town hall.

“And even if it is helpful in elections, I think that the tone at the top and the leadership of what you show matters,” she added. “If I were to go and jump on TikTok or Republicans were to jump on TikTok, that’s not showing anyone why they shouldn’t be on it.”

Haley has been vocal about supporting a TikTok ban, clashing with former GOP presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy in a debate last year when he mentioned her daughter when talking about social media regulation.

During Sunday’s town hall, she went on to claim that China can look at a user’s personal information, like phone contacts and finances, from TikTok.

“They can impact what you see. And they can impact what you hear. That is the dangerous part of TikTok. And India has a banned it. You had Nepal just banned it because it was the causing social disruption,” she said.

“America can’t be the last country to ban TikTok. Let’s end it now and stop it so it doesn’t hurt our children any further,” she continued.

The Biden campaign’s decision to join TikTok sparked bipartisan pushback, as many critics have expressed national security concerns about the platform. Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), the chair of the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), urged Biden to “reverse course” on joining TikTok last week.

Many state governments and the federal government have banned TikTok from government devices over security concerns.

The Hill has reached out to Biden’s campaign, Trump’s campaign and TikTok for comment.

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Biden administration providing $1.5B to produce computer chips in NY, Vermont

The Biden administration on Monday announced a preliminary agreement to provide $1.5 billion in funding through the CHIPS and Science Act to a New York-based company in an effort to bolster domestic production of semiconductor chips.

The Commerce Department said it signed a non-binding preliminary memorandum of terms with GlobalFoundries to give funding through the bipartisan legislation signed into law in 2022. The money would be used for a new facility, expansion of production capacity and the modernization of GlobalFoundries’ semiconductor manufacturing sites in New York and Vermont.

The company produces chips that are used for blind spot detection and collision warnings in cars, for charging in smartphones and to secure Wi-Fi connections. Part of the funding would specifically be used to expand a facility that houses a dedicated corridor for General Motors.

“President Biden and I continue to be fully committed to growing our economy and creating opportunity in every part of America. Today’s announcement is another way in which we are delivering on that commitment in New York, Vermont, and communities throughout the country,” Vice President Harris said in a statement.

Thomas Caulfield, president and CEO of GlobalFoundries, said the investments through the CHIPS and Science Act “will also play an important role in making the U.S. semiconductor ecosystem more globally competitive and resilient and cements the New York Capital Region as a global semiconductor hub.”

“With new onshore capacity and technology on the horizon, as an industry we now need to turn our attention to increasing the demand for U.S.-made chips, and to growing our talented U.S. semiconductor workforce,” Caulfield said in a statement.

President Biden has repeatedly touted the importance of the CHIPS and Science Act, citing the prevalence of microchips that are used in everyday technology such as phones, cars, home appliances and more. Officials have said the law is critical to bolster domestic production of the chips to make the U.S. less reliant on foreign supply chains.

The Biden administration had previously reached a deal with BAE Systems Inc. to provide $35 million in funding through the law for the company’s defense projects.

And in January the administration announced $162 million in funding to boost production in Oregon and Colorado.

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Air Canada must pay refund promised by AI chatbot, tribunal rules

Air Canada must pay a Vancouver man a partial refund for his flight ticket that was promised by the site’s chatbot, a Canadian tribunal ruled Wednesday, in what could be a landmark case for the use of artificial intelligence in business.

Jake Moffatt asked the airline’s artificial intelligence support chatbot whether the airline offered bereavement fares in November 2022, following the death of his grandmother. The chatbot said the airline does offer discount fares and that Moffat could receive the discount up to 90 days after flying by filing a claim.

The airline’s actual bereavement policy, however, does not include a post-flight refund, and specifically states the discount must be approved beforehand.

Moffat booked and flew from Vancouver to Toronto and back for about $1200, and later requested the promised discount of about half off but was told by the airline’s support staff that the chatbot’s replies were incorrect and nonbinding.

Air Canada argued in the civil tribunal that the chatbot is a “separate legal entity” to the company, and that it could not be held responsible for its words to customers. 

Tribune member Christopher Rivers ruled in favor of Moffat on Wednesday, determining the airline committed “negligent misrepresentation” and it must follow through with the chatbot’s promised discount. 

“This is a remarkable submission,” he wrote. “While a chatbot has an interactive component, it is still just a part of Air Canada’s website. It should be obvious to Air Canada that it is responsible for all the information on its website. It makes no difference whether the information comes from a static page or a chatbot.”

Rivers ordered Air Canada to pay Moffat the promised $483 refund plus nominal fees.

“I find Air Canada did not take reasonable care to ensure its chatbot was accurate,” Rivers continued. “While Air Canada argues Mr. Moffatt could find the correct information on another part of its website, it does not explain why the webpage titled ‘Bereavement travel’ was inherently more trustworthy than its chatbot. It also does not explain why customers should have to double-check information found in one part of its website on another part of its website.”

The support chatbot, launched last year, was not visible on the airline’s website as of Sunday.

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Amazon becomes latest company to argue US labor board is unconstitutional

Amazon has become the latest company to argue that the structure of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) violates the U.S. Constitution, following the lead of SpaceX and Trader Joe’s.

The e-commerce giant claimed in a recent filing that the labor board’s case, which accuses the company of illegally retaliating against unionizing workers, should be dismissed because the board itself is unconstitutional.

Amazon argued that the NLRB’s structure “violates the separation of powers” because administrative law judges and board members are largely insulated from presidential oversight and removal, “impeding the executive power” provided in Article II of the Constitution.

The filing also suggested that the board’s structure and proceedings violate Articles I and III of the Constitution, as well as the Fifth and Seventh Amendments.

SpaceX and Trader Joe’s made similar arguments about the NLRB last month in the face of alleged labor law violations. 

SpaceX, the spacecraft and satellite communications company owned by Elon Musk, suggested that the NLRB was “unlawful” after it accused the company of improperly firing eight employees who drafted and circulated an open letter about workplace concerns.

An attorney for the grocery chain Trader Joe’s also argued that the agency’s structure and administrative law judges were unconstitutional at a hearing in mid-January, Bloomberg reported.

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Neil deGrasse Tyson 'skeptical' of threat posed by Russian anti-satellite capability development

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Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson said he is “skeptical” of the threat posed by the development of a Russian anti-satellite capability in a recent interview on CNN.

“[I]n terms of destroying another satellite, like I said, there [are] already ways to do that. There are these… what they call kinetic kills, where you can take a missile, no explosives necessary at all, because the satellite’s already moving 18,000 miles an hour,” Tyson said in the interview with CNN’s Abby Phillip.

“All you have to do is get in its way, and the thing explodes,” Tyson continued. “Russia’s done it, China’s done it, we’ve done it, India has done it. So… and then you can target the satellite at will. If you’re stuck in orbit, you might not be near a satellite that you wanna take out. You have to wait until the orbits line up… just seems so inefficient. So, I’m just skeptical of how dangerous this thing can be, relative to everyone’s emotions attached to it.”

Russia is possibly getting ready to deploy a nuclear weapon in space that could pose a risk to other satellites, but it is not clear what exactly the weapon is. The threat of the potential deployment came to prominence on Wednesday after House Intelligence Committee chair Mike Turner (R-Ohio) put out a statement in which he called on the Biden administration to declassify information relating to a “national security threat.”

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-La.) said Thursday that the Russian threat was known about by Congress for “weeks.”

“This is a matter that we’ve known about for a few weeks. We requested a meeting with the president. I did — we did, in writing in January,” Johnson said at a press conference.

White House national security communications adviser John Kirby also said Thursday that the anti-satellite capability wasn’t “active” or deployed yet, but called Russia’s pursuit of it “troubling.”

“We’re not talking about a weapon that can be used to attack human beings or cause physical destruction here on Earth,” Kirby said. 

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Tech companies pledge to fight deceptive AI during 2024 elections

Several major technology companies — including Adobe, Amazon, Google, IBM, Meta, Microsoft, OpenAI, Snap, TikTok and X — signed an accord Friday pledging to combat the use of deceptive artificial intelligence (AI) in this year’s elections.

The 20 participating companies pledged to “work collaboratively on tools to detect and address online distribution” of AI-generated content meant to deceive voters in elections around the globe, in addition to engaging in educational campaigns and offering transparency, according to a press release.

The head of the Munich Security Conference, where the accord was announced, touted the move as a “crucial step in advancing election integrity, increasing societal resilience, and creating trustworthy tech practices.”

“[The Munich Security Conference] is proud to offer a platform for technology companies to take steps toward reining in threats emanating from AI while employing it for democratic good at the same time,” Chair Christoph Heusgen said in a statement.

The accord comes as more than 4 billion people are set to head to the polls this year in more than 40 countries, including the U.S., the press release noted.

“With so many major elections taking place this year, it’s vital we do what we can to prevent people being deceived by AI-generated content,” Nick Clegg, the president of global affairs at Meta, said in a statement.

“This work is bigger than any one company and will require a huge effort across industry, government and civil society,” Clegg added. “Hopefully, this accord can serve as a meaningful step from industry in meeting that challenge.”

As political campaigns and their supporters increasingly utilize AI, concerns have grown about the power of the rapidly advancing technology to deceive voters. 

Last month, a call impersonating President Biden went out to voters in New Hampshire, urging them not to vote in the state’s primary election. 

The call prompted the Federal Communications Commission to crack down on AI-generated robocalls. However, experts have warned that the agency’s action is not sufficient on its own, leading to calls for Congress and the Federal Election Commission to act as well.

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Americans split on TikTok ban as Biden campaign joins platform: Poll

Americans are split over whether TikTok should be banned in the United States amid national security concerns about the video-sharing app’s connections to the Chinese government, a new poll has found.

The app is already banned on federal government devices and some state government devices — a move that is supported by most adults surveyed in the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll.

In the AP-NORC poll, 31 percent said they would support a total TikTok ban, 35 percent said they would oppose a ban and 31 percent said they had no opinion on the matter.

Nearly half of people aged 18 to 25 said they would oppose a ban.

The findings come after President Biden’s reelection campaign joined TikTok on Sunday with a Super Bowl-themed 30-second video featuring Biden answering questions.

Deputy campaign manager Rob Flaherty described the move as an effort to continue “finding new, innovative ways to reach voters in an evolving, fragmented, and increasingly personalized media environment.”

The moves have led to some criticisms of Biden from critics of TikTok.

Lawmakers have voiced concerns about privacy and safety on the app and have accused Chinese company ByteDance of potentially misusing or sharing data with the Chinese government. TikTok officials have denied the allegations and sought to distance the app from the Chinese government, including in testimony during a Congressional hearing last month.

“TikTok provides the [Chinese Communist Party] with the ability to weaponize the platform by suppressing, magnifying, and otherwise constructing narratives to target specific audiences abroad,” a bipartisan group of members of Congress wrote in a Feb. 8 letter to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.

The AP-NORC poll also found a majority of adults are concerned about the amount of time children and teens spend on TikTok.

About 21 percent of adults surveyed said they use TikTok daily, but the number jumps to 44 percent for people aged 18 to 29. Daily TikTok users were found to be less likely to be concerned about the dangers of the app compared to those who use it less often or never.

About a third of Americans younger than 30 regularly turn to TikTok for news, according to a Pew Research Center survey last fall that also found the percentage of Americans using TikTok has been steadily growing across all age groups.

The AP-NORC poll was conducted Jan. 25-29 and included online and telephone interviews with 1,152 adults. The margin of error is 4 percentage points.

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FTC chair warns against scam tactics after viral column

Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chair Lina Khan issued a warning on scam tactics in the wake of a viral column from New York Magazine’s The Cut.

“Being the victim of a scam can be devastating,” Khan said in her thread. “A reminder that nobody from @FTC will ever give you a badge number, ask you to confirm your Social Security number, ask how much money you have in your bank account, transfer you to a CIA agent, or send you texts out of the blue.”

Khan’s thread followed a Thursday column from The Cut that went viral in which the publication’s financial advice columnist discussed being scammed out of $50,000 by people posing as employees of the FTC and CIA.

“Scams where fraudsters pose as the government are highly common,” Khan continued in her thread. “Last year Americans lost $2.7 billion to impersonator scams.”

Khan also linked to a FTC website for reporting fraud, as well as information on scams and identity theft from the agency: ReportFraud.ftc.gov.

“When you report a scam, the FTC can use the information to build cases against scammers, spot trends, educate the public, and share data about what is happening in your community,” the FTC says on its website.

A majority of respondents in a November Gallup survey said they were worried about being tricked by a scammer. Fifty-seven percent of respondents in the survey said they frequently or occasionally worried about getting tricked by a scammer or giving them access to a financial account, coming in second behind identity theft in crime concerns among Americans.