When it comes to determining the future of artificial intelligence, the American public believes that regulators might not be sufficiently informed and that companies might not have the public interest in mind, creating a complicated policy environment in which all parties need to work together, the founding partners of Washington, DC, public affairs firm ROKK Solutions told attendees at the PRovoke North America Summit earlier this month.

ROKK partner Rodell Mollineau said the company's new AI-focused offer is designed to help companies and policymakers come together to find solutions to the various challenges posed by artificial intelligence. “Government really lags behind tech advances, especially with AI,” he said. “The average age of a United States Senator is 65 years old. And in the House of Representatives, they're not too far behind. They didn't grow up in the digital age.”

Artificial intelligence is a unique challenge right now in part because so few legislators understand the technology, in part because different corporate interests—technology and media companies, for example—have different priorities, and in part because concerns don’t align around a traditional left-right axis.

As a result, ROKK is offering “a variety of things because this is moving so quickly. There are a number of bills, legislation that's been introduced in Congress and the states that addresses a variety of things, misinformation or biases. But there isn't a real centralized force happening. And there are a lot of companies that are looking to navigate these waters and are looking to shape the media environment."

In addition, Mollineau said, there are internal communications, crisis management, media relations and other challenges. Employees in many sectors are concerned about whether AI might take away their jobs; consumers, particularly in areas like financial services, worry that AI will only exacerbate existing biases.

ROKK’s other partner, Ron Bonjean, added: “One of the reasons why this is important, if anyone here has followed the data privacy fights for the last 12 years, you have a multitude of data privacy laws. You're in California and your information is handled one way, you're in Maine and it's handled another way. And everyone will tell you that it's just not the way to legislate and part of this is because Washington, D.C. has been behind the ball. It took a while for tech and Washington to come together and realize they needed a national privacy law.

“So this is an opportunity for both companies, for the private sector, and for the public sector to get together in real time and start figuring out what this framework looks like.”

At the same time, Mollineau and Bonjean agree, public scrutiny is likely to intensify in an election year, especially if there are explosive allegations arising from credible AI-generated deep fakes.

Yet neither side is entirely trusted, according to research conducted by ROKK in partnership with WE Communications and Penn State. Said Mollineau, “You've got a public that is both intrigued and to a certain extent inspired by what AI can do, but skeptical of some of the actors. They believe that government should have the leading role in shaping AI regulatory policy. At the same time, the next question is, do you believe that they have the capacity and the know-how to shape AI policy? And the answer is an astounding no.

“They believe that tech companies are much smarter on these issues, and that they should of course be a part of it. But at the same time, they are a little bit wary of whether or not tech companies will be good actors, which is why at this point, neither one of them are seen as the best actors on this and only through a public-private partnership I think are they going to be able to convince a majority of Americans that that we're on the right path.”

Ultimately, Bonjean explained, “this will be shaped by a handful of policy makers that are really good at this and that the rest of the Congress is going to pay attention to and trust regarding it. So identifying who those members of Congress are and figuring out what they're watching, what they're seeing, what they're doing, getting a meeting with them, whatever it takes to shape those are the members that you need to be going after.”

So while both agree that AI policy is unlikely to be created this year—an election year—it is going to start taking shape, and those companies with a stake in the outcome of any policy debate need to be involved now to make sure that regulatory decisions are based on all the facts and all perspectives.