This year has produced an upsurge in tools that allow the public to use generative artificial intelligence to produce text, images, audio, and video, frequently in the voice of real people. Federal legislators have been both astounded and concerned by this progress, and many are clamoring to craft an appropriate regulatory response. Consensus has yet to emerge, but Congress can look to state legislatures — often referred to as the laboratories of democracy — for inspiration regarding how to address the opportunities and challenges posed by AI.
This year, Congress has held committee hearings and proposed many bills to address the perceived threats and promises of this new technology. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and a bipartisan team of senators have each announced frameworks to guide forthcoming AI legislation. To underscore the extraordinary nature of this issue, on September 13, Schumer assembled two-thirds of the Senate, major technology CEOs, and labor and civil rights leaders for a closed-door AI Insights Forum. Participants — including tech mogul Elon Musk, OpenAI founder Sam Altman, and the Center for Humane Technology’s Tristan Harris — overwhelmingly agreed that AI regulation is necessary.
As our colleagues Faiza Patel and Ivey Dyson have noted, the European Union is steps ahead of the United States and has already provided a potential model for federal regulation with its AI Act. Meanwhile, closer to home, 30 states have passed more than 50 laws over the last five years to address AI in some capacity, with attention greatly increasing year over year.
No existing state legislation matches the ambitious European proposals. Instead, states have entered the space incrementally, passing laws that tackle discrete policy concerns or establish entities to study the potential consequences of AI and make policy recommendations. While much of the enacted legislation does not directly address AI’s impact on elections, laws in California, Texas, Minnesota, and Washington do, and more such laws have been proposed.
This summer, the National Conference of State Legislatures published a report aimed at building consensus around common definitions of AI terms, circulating best practices in AI regulation, and increasing awareness of key risks. The report cautions that “there will be a race to the bottom for AI if no guardrails are offered.”
State legislation often foreshadows federal solutions. Several trends have emerged from state-level AI regulation that merit attention from Washington, DC.