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Here’s a statement I used to firmly believe but now realize is often wrong: “Government should not pick technology winners and losers.”

It can be true, of course, but there are times when the representatives of “we the people” need to take the lead away from representatives of “they the venture capitalists.” The eruption of artificial intelligence is one of those times and, happily, it seems that a lot of New Hampshire’s lawmakers agree.

“Legislators are very open to this (AI) being something that needs legislative action. They seem very aware of the potential threats and consequences. You don’t see much of that wholesale resistance – ‘We need to let the technology evolve’ – that you often see,” said Anna Brown, director of research and analysis for Citizens Count.

Brown and Citizens Count, by the way, are doing a great job keeping track of the myriad bills bouncing around under the gold dome of the State House: check out

At least 10 bills were submitted this year dealing with AI and related technologies, which is impressive considering that most of us thought it was science fiction until ChatGPT showed up.

(A terminology note: “Artificial intelligence” isn’t intelligent in any useful sense of the term. It describes several technologies that are really just super-duper prediction machines. They guess what humans would do in a given situation, like answering a question or drawing a picture, based on what humanity has done in the past. That guess depends on what is in their database, usually consisting of everything their company can steal from the internet. A bad database leads to bad predictions.)

Brown summarized the bills, which are percolating through the process at the moment, into two main categories.

One set would expand existing criminal laws, usually involving sex crimes, so they also apply when AI is involved.

“There were three bills targeting AI deepfake porn,” Brown said. “All of those are coming out with favorable committee recommendations. Legislators say: we’re adding this to state laws right away.”

“There are definitely logistical concerns about how would we even track down violators, but that doesn’t mean we don’t pass laws,” she added.

Another set would require notification when AI is used, particularly in political advertising. This was prodded in part by the much-publicized deepfake call of a pseudo-Biden telling people not to vote in our presidential primary, as well as use of AI in a GOP ad.

Both of these are excellent goals that any sensible person would applaud. They’re also relatively straightforward, although with a fast-changing technology like AI there’s difficulty in defining what you mean.

There’s a third category of dealing with AI that I would classify as idiotic, epitomized by this bill: “Allow use of self-driving vehicle for self-defense.” It died in the House, and thankfully doesn’t seem indicative of anybody else’s approach.

I realize that this is a tough area to legislate because nobody really understands the technology yet. Plus it’s so new that the legislature doesn’t have a good system for factoring it into their thinking: “It’s not like there’s an AI committee reviewing all these bills. They come out of different places – executive, criminal justice – and different committees are going to have different recommendations,” Brown said.

That’s why some bills have been sent for interim study. “Often that’s a polite way to kill a bill … but every now and then it is very legitimate. This is one of those times,” she said.

I had one big question for Brown as she filled me in on details: Why are our lawmakers suddenly open to reining in the excesses of a new technology? She thinks it might be a reflection of one aspect of live free or die that AI really threatens: the desire to be left alone.

“I feel that on a certain level this is an echo of work started by (former state representative) Neil Kurk … He definitely created this environment in the New Hampshire legislature that we value our citizens’ privacy and are going to be a leader on that issue. When I hear people talking about those bills, it’s a lot about: We don’t want to be endangering people’s privacy,” she said.

Whatever the cause, it’s nice to see society acting like adults and trying to grapple with a problem before it becomes insurmountable. That doesn’t happen often enough.

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