Bloomington resolution on hazards of general AI withdrawn after Indiana University weighs in

After an hour of deliberations last Wednesday, Bloomington city councilmember Dave Rollo withdrew his resolution calling for a moratorium restricting the development of general artificial intelligence (AI), until its “alignment with human values and well-being is guaranteed.”

About five weeks ago, just before the city council took its annual summer hiatus, Rollo had told his council colleagues that he would be bringing forward the resolution.

The resolution was based on a concern that general AI poses an existential threat to humankind—a view shared by some major figures who work in the field of AI.

Among those leaders cited in the “whereas” clauses of Rollo’s resolution is Geoffrey Hinton, a former vice president and engineering fellow at Google.

The resolution would have been a symbolic one, with no direct fiscal impact on the city, and no immediate effect—except that the city clerk would have sent a copy of the adopted resolution to the state house and senate, Indiana’s governor, Indiana’s congressional delegation, and US President Joe Biden.

The resolution had received pushback from Indiana University, based on unspecified concerns about “potential impacts to technology-related research funding IU receives.”

Those concerns were relayed to the council in an email message to councilmembers sent by council administrator/attorney Stephen Lucas about six hours before the start of the council’s Wednesday evening meeting.

The email message from Lucas indicated that someone from the university would attend the meeting, to speak about the item. Attending the council’s meeting was IU’s vice provost for external relations Kirk White, who is also a former Bloomington city councilmember. But White did not take a turn at the public mic.

Speaking during public commentary was Bloomington Economic Development Corporation president Jen Pearl, who described Bloomington as “a hub on the innovation corridor that runs from Indianapolis to NSWC Crane.”

Pearl also noted that Indiana University has leaders in AI, machine learning, and digital ethics. Here’s the rhetorical question posed by Pearl: “What message do we wish to send as a community together?” Pearl’s answer was that Bloomington should show some leadership on the topic. “Rather than simply calling for a moratorium, we instead have a chance to lead as a community,” Pearl said.

As a part of an approach that could provide leadership, Pearl called for collaboration with researchers at Indiana University.

Similar sentiments were included in an email message sent to Rollo mid-afternoon on Wednesday by vice president for strategic partnerships at The Mill, and former Bloomington mayor, John Fernandez.

Fernandez’s email pointed to the Indiana University’s Luddy School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering as a point of collaboration: “[W]e are trying to work more closely with the Luddy School and leveraging the talent and R&D coming out of the school to improve our economic development opportunities. Luddy has a tremendous amount of research and funding focused on the positive potential for this technology in the fields of health care, climate, manufacturing, etc.”

About the resolution, Fernandez wrote to Rollo: “Not sure this resolution sends a very good message.”

Rollo didn’t get strong pushback from council colleagues in the form of any kind of disagreement that concerns about AI are legitimate. But a lack of enthusiasm for the resolution was evident.

Councilmember Jim Sims asked Rollo about the idea of aligning AI with human values, when human beings themselves often treat each other badly. Sims put it like this: “From a human value standpoint, we’ve already been pretty damn cruel to each other, and mistreated people.” Sims asked Rollo to address that topic.

Rollo responded by saying, “We’re still evolving socially. To be able to make sure that we have a fair, equitable society for everyone—we’re not even to that point, right?” Rollo concluded, “So in order to establish a machine…that has our welfare in mind, everyone’s welfare in mind, is going to be complicated. It’s going to be very difficult.”

Councilmember Steve Volan included IU’s opposition to the resolution as a reason not to support it. “I don’t see this resolution influencing the state enough to take action, especially with the state’s flagship university, normally a sympathetic partner to city concerns, having sent us email from several different sources saying that they were opposed to it,” Volan said.

Susan Sandberg indicated support for Rollo’s resolution. But when it was clear that the resolution probably would probably not have enough support to win a majority of votes, Rollo asked that the resolution be withdrawn, which the council agreed to by unanimous consent.

Presiding over the meeting as president of the council, was Sue Sgambelluri, who wrapped up the topic by telling Rollo: “I think you accomplished some of what you wanted to with the discussion that we had. So thank you for that.”

From the public mic, Bloomington resident Peter Dorfman had suggested some practical policy steps the city might take involving AI. He suggested that the city could resolve never to adopt AI algorithms for hiring and financial decisions that are trained on data that is discriminatory in character.

Getting no explicit air time during Wednesday’s meeting was the idea of developing a strategic plan for the city of Bloomington that addresses the role that AI might play in the future of the city.

In the late 2010s, such a plan was co-authored for the city of Stockton, California, by Isak Asare, who is a Democratic Party nominee for one of the three at-large Bloomington city council seats in November’s city election.

Asare is co-director of the cybersecurity and global policy program at IU’s Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies.

The Stockton strategic plan recommends, among other things, maintaining a position in city hall for someone focused on future workforce, who should help coordinate Stockton’s AI strategy.

4 thoughts on “Bloomington resolution on hazards of general AI withdrawn after Indiana University weighs in

  1. “Do you see over yonder, friend Sancho, thirty or forty hulking giants? I intend to do battle with them and slay them.”

    ― Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote

  2. I’ve noticed that proponents of nanny government want us to take threats seriously.

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