Outcry from big AI firms over California AI “kill switch” bill

A finger poised over an electrical switch.

Artificial intelligence heavyweights in California are protesting against a state bill that would force technology companies to adhere to a strict safety framework including creating a “kill switch” to turn off their powerful AI models, in a growing battle over regulatory control of the cutting-edge technology.

The California Legislature is considering proposals that would introduce new restrictions on tech companies operating in the state, including the three largest AI start-ups OpenAI, Anthropic, and Cohere as well as large language models run by Big Tech companies such as Meta.

The bill, passed by the state’s Senate last month and set for a vote from its general assembly in August, requires AI groups in California to guarantee to a newly created state body that they will not develop models with “a hazardous capability,” such as creating biological or nuclear weapons or aiding cyber security attacks.

Developers would be required to report on their safety testing and introduce a so-called kill switch to shut down their models, according to the proposed Safe and Secure Innovation for Frontier Artificial Intelligence Systems Act.

But the law has become the focus of a backlash from many in Silicon Valley because of claims it will force AI start-ups to leave the state and prevent platforms such as Meta from operating open source models.

“If someone wanted to come up with regulations to stifle innovation, one could hardly do better,” said Andrew Ng, a renowned computer scientist who led AI projects at Alphabet’s Google and China’s Baidu, and who sits on Amazon’s board. “It creates massive liabilities for science-fiction risks, and so stokes fear in anyone daring to innovate.”

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