U.S. Senators Josh Hawley, a republican from Missouri, and Richard Blumenthal, a democrat from Connecticut, introduced a senate bill on June 14 that would eliminate special protections afforded to online computer services providers under the Communications Decency Act of 1996.
Today @SenBlumenthal and I introduce the first bipartisan AI bill – putting power in the hands of consumers to sue when AI harms them. It’s landmark protection for Americans, and more to come https://t.co/10rJOr5IP3
— Josh Hawley (@HawleyMO) June 14, 2023
Section 230 refers to text found in title 47, section 230 of the code resulting from the Decency Act’s passage. It specifically grants protection to online service providers from liability for content posted by users. It also gives providers immunity from prosecution for illegal content, provided good faith efforts are made to take down such content upon discovery.
Opponents of section 230 have argued that it absolves social media platforms and other online service providers of responsibility for the content they host. The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled against changing section 230 in light of a lawsuit in which plaintiff’s sought to hold social media companies accountable for damages sustained through the platform’s alleged hosting and promotion of terrorist-related content.
Per the high court’s opinion, a social media site can’t be held accountable for the suggestions made by the algorithms it uses to surface content any more than an email or cellular service provider can for the content transmitted via their services.
The Supreme Court recently punted on deciding the future of Section 230. But how long will the status quo remain in place? Next week on 6/21, join us for a discussion on this with Benjamin Wittes, @qjurecic, @tewheels, and @alexanderabdo.
— The Brookings Institution (@BrookingsInst) June 14, 2023
It’s unclear at this time, however, whether section 230 actually applies to generative AI companies such as Open AI and Google, makers of ChatGPT and Bard respectively.
During a recent senate hearing, OpenAI CEO Sam Altman told U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham that it was impression that section 230 didn’t apply to his company. When pressed by Hawley, during the same hearing, who asked Altman what he thought about a hypothetical situation where congress “opened the courthouse doors” and allowed people who were harmed by AI to testify in court, the CEO responded, “please forgive my ignorance, can’t people sue us?”
While there’s no specific language covering generative AI in section 230, it’s possible further discussions about its relevance to generative AI technologies could come down to the definition of “online service.”
The GPT API, for example, underpins countless AI services throughout the cryptocurrency and blockchain industries. If section 230 applies to generative AI technologies, it might prove difficult to hold businesses or individuals accountable for harms resulting from misinformation or bad advice generated via AI.