California’s Imperfect but Necessary Attempts to Regulate A.I.
While the state’s new laws on bots and deepfakes have their flaws, they represent a vital first step to curbing dangerous new technology
Co-authored by Madeline Lamo
There are real risks to regulating artificial intelligence. A.I. is everywhere, making it difficult to identify distinct characteristics that would require different treatment in the eyes of the law. Its outputs often implicate free speech. But one state has nonetheless rushed in. California, through a series of recent legislative efforts, has demonstrated its willingness to take on the challenge of regulating certain specific applications of A.I. These efforts have been perilous and imperfect. But the alternative — forgoing the opportunity to channel a transformative technology of our time — could be worse.
We have written before about California’s recent bot disclosure law. Aimed at preventing the spread of false information online, the 2018 law requires automated political and commercial accounts on social media to clearly disclose that they are bots. The law raises free speech concerns, in part by creating a scaffolding for censorship. The legislation does not necessarily address the unique harms bots can cause. Because bots largely amplify the spread of false information (rather than generate new false claims), the harm they cause is really about scale. Many bots, for example, could retweet a specific topic that could then appear in Twitter’s “trending topics.” It is unclear whether requiring individual bot accounts to disclose that they are automated would do anything to remedy this kind of scale-based harm.
The California legislature entered the A.I. fray once again during the 2019 legislative session, this time with a pair of bills aimed at curbing the potential harm caused by “deepfakes.” Deepfakes are A.I.-modified videos, often featuring one person’s likeness digitally superimposed onto the body of another. A high-quality deepfake can convincingly show what appears to be live video footage of something that never happened. The potential for mischief and malicious action is nearly boundless. California’s new laws target two specific categories of deepfakes: political and…