State legislature considers AI task force


Some fear Artificial Intelligence (AI) might open a dark chapter to a dystopian future. Others say the progress it promises is virtually unlimited.

To find a balance among those concerns, Washington state is considering launching a task force to determine how it can best promote the most beneficial uses while mitigating potential challenges.

State senator Joe Nguyen (D-White Center) has introduced a bill, SB 5838, that would establish the task force. The bill has 17 Democratic and 2 Republican cosponsors and the support of state attorney general Bob Ferguson.

“The legislature is set up to solve yesterday’s problems tomorrow,” Nguyen said. “There’s probably over 150 AI bills across the nation.”

The European Union’s 2023 AI law set the stage for global discourse on regulation and introduced a tiered approach to regulate AI based on risk levels.

The law identifies “unacceptable risk” in AI systems and bans them, with some exceptions for law enforcement. It prohibits AI technology that engages in “social scoring,” which involves categorizing people based on behavior, socioeconomic status or personal characteristics.

“High-risk” AI systems undergo assessments before market entry and throughout their lifecycle, while general-purpose and generative AI, like ChatGPT, must comply with transparency requirements that require people to disclose whenever they use ChatGPT.

Drawbacks of the regulation include possible limits on innovation and the challenge of defining and categorizing AI systems accurately.

AI legislation has been introduced in 25 U.S. states. Task forces or commissions have been launched by officials in Colorado, Illinois, Vermont and Virginia.

SB 5838, if passed, would establish a task force this year as long as state budget writers allocate funds – roughly $1.5 million over the next four years, according to the bill’s fiscal note. The task force’s 42 members, spanning public and private sectors, will be charged with providing insights on racial equity, regulatory proposals and innovation support. The task force would include one member each from the Senate and the House.

“Oftentimes, it is difficult to fill workgroups, or task forces that the legislature passes,” Nguyen said. “This is not one of those cases. In fact, we have to trim it down a little bit.”

Joyce Bruce, the attorney general’s legislative director, testified in support of the bill.

“ChatGPT has become one of the fastest growing AI applications of all time. Washington has been on the cutting edge of innovation and technology,” Bruce said.

Seattle ranks second nationally in AI talent concentration. Ferguson emphasized the need to embrace this technology thoughtfully.

Some, however, worry too much regulation might hurt the ability of firms to develop new products.

“We should not be in the practice of interrupting technology and innovation,” said Kelly Fukai, vice president of government community affairs at the Washington Technology Industry Association.

Concerned citizen Eric Pratt echoed those thoughts.

“We might impede on the public’s ability to utilize (the technology’s) full potential,” he said. “When you use words like ‘regulation’ and ‘task force,’ it starts to get my concerns elevated …You’re trying to take away powerful tools,” Pratt said.

The task force would convene semiannually. It would provide its first report by December 1, 2025, and a final report by June 1, 2027.

State senator Lisa Wellman (D-Mercer Island) said she hoped the task force would report more frequently.

“One of the things that we’re missing is to have a trusted source providing us with information as a public about what is happening,” she said.” I would really like this group to be putting out more frequent reports.”

If the bill passes, the task force would meet by December 31, 2024.

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