Against vague calls for AI regulation

Elon Musk made headlines today by stating that “all org[anizations] developing advanced AI should be regulated, including Tesla.”

While Musk's invitation to regulate his own company is refreshing, I am tired of calls to regulate AI that are unaccompanied by any specific proposals. Such statements amount, in the language of social scientists, to “cheap talk.”

How exactly should we regulate Tesla and its peers? If Tesla's CEO says that Tesla needs to be more regulated, one must ask: which specific nefarious activities is Tesla engaged in, and why will it continue those activities unless the government forces it to stop?

Musk's failure to propose specifics is sympomatic of a broader problem in media coverage of AI. It should not be possible to make headlines by making a contentless statement about AI or the need to regulate AI. Such statements are not news. And tech companies should get no PR points by endorsing hypothetical regulations whose content they make no effort to describe.

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