A Member of Parliament and a Canadian Senator concerned with the pace of technology versus that of regulation announced they are forming a parliamentary caucus on emerging technology.
Citing blockchain and artificial intelligence (AI) as two forms of tech rapidly impacting Canada’s social and economic fabric, Michelle Rempel Garner and Colin Deacon said they launched the cross-partisan working group of Canadian parliamentarians. They said they have convened in response to a rapidly changing technology landscape that presents opportunities and challenges for Canada.
Garner is the PC Member of Parliament for Calgary Nose Hill, while co-chair of the caucus group, Deacon, is a Canadian Senator.
“I believe we can work together on issues and not allow those conversations to become partisan.”
Deacon told BetaKit that they want to see if between the House and the Senate if they can begin to deal with the opportunities and challenges associated with some of the emerging technologies in a way that is more agile than what is currently being done.
“Pace is the biggest issue,” Deacon said.
Deacon pointed to Bill C-27 as an example. The bill, titled An Act to enact the Consumer Privacy Protection Act, the Personal Information and Data Protection Tribunal Act and the Artificial Intelligence and Data Act and to make consequential and related amendments to other Acts, was tabled a year ago.
Deacon said the bill will go to committee in September, and he doesn’t know how long it will sit there, and what amendments might take place. “The legislation is probably a year away from being passed, and then a two or three year process of developing the regulations that will actually form how that legislation functions,” he noted.
“The process is so long … are there ways we can be more agile?” Deacon asked rhetorically.
Rempel said the new group will aim to function as a nimble forum to link all interested Parliamentarians with a broad range of stakeholders engaged in relevant fields ranging from artificial intelligence, web3, blockchain technologies, and more.
“We will do this in order to educate, and where possible, identify areas of consensus on principles related to the role of government and policy objectives that might best foster positive outcomes for Canadians,” she said.
Deacon said he would like to see regulators and innovators become much closer. He noted it’s difficult for regulators to deal with some of the technologies until they understand what’s involved, and what can be controlled and what can’t.
“There is an idea that there should be a pause in large-language models for generative AI,” Deacon said. “First thing, I’m not of the opinion that is reasonable, because bad actors will continue to move ahead, and only the good guys will potentially stop. We have to get parliamentarians in a position where we can start to find a way to keep up.”
Deacon was referring to recent open letters from the likes of Yoshua Bengio, the co-founder of Montréal-based Mila, along with hundreds of tech leaders, artificial intelligence (AI) researchers, policymakers and other concerned parties, urging all AI labs to agree to a six-month pause on training systems that are more powerful than GPT-4.
Deacon proposed that parliamentarians need to become more comfortable with the opportunities and challenges facing them, and start chatting about the options while building some inter-parliamentary cooperation, support, and consensus.
But is that possible? During debates over Bill C-11, the so-called online streaming bill, passed into law April 27 with over 100 amendments, an attempt was made to rush the bill through Parliament, according to news reports. But Senators said at the time they would not be pushed to scramble through some 150 proposed amendments to the bill, despite pressure from the government.
“I believe we can work together on issues and not allow those conversations to become partisan,” Deacon declared. “This is not about anybody gathering partisan talking points. It’s [about] trying to learn and see what our options might be as Canadians.”
Deacon ultimately hopes that the caucus group will discover approaches that allow Canadians to be far more agile in how they take advantage of the opportunities technology can bring, and how they manage the risks of new technologies.
“If we can do that, I’d feel a lot more confident about the future,” he said.”If we’re not able to do that, it’s worrisome, because it means we end up at the consuming end of technology, not the creating end of it.”
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