Sens. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and Ted Budd, R-N.C., introduced two pieces of bipartisan legislation this week that would empower the Federal government to better understand the public health security risks of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies.

The “Artificial Intelligence and Biosecurity Risk Assessment Act” and the “Strategy for Public Health Preparedness and Response to Artificial Intelligence Threats Act” call on the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to take a more active role in examining AI and the threat it poses to biosecurity.

“The federal government has fallen behind before in addressing the grave risks posed by emerging technologies. We can’t make the same mistake with the technologies of our future,” Sen. Markey, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, said on July 18.

“It is vital for us not only to understand the impacts of artificial intelligence on our health but to act with the urgency that this moment requires,” he continued. “Protection of the nation’s health security isn’t a Democrat or Republican issue. It is an issue of national security.”

Specifically, the biosecurity legislation would charge the HHS assistant secretary for preparedness and response with conducting risk assessments on how more advanced forms of AI could be used to develop various types of biosecurity threats, like “novel pathogens, viruses, bioweapons, or chemical weapons.”

This piece of legislation was endorsed by the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, among others.

The second bill on public health preparedness proposes broader responsibilities for HHS, including a requirement that the agency develop a strategy focused on response and mitigation of the risks that AI might pose to national health security through biological and chemical weapons.

That strategy would need to be submitted to members of Congress 180 days after the bill is enacted as law.

“As AI grows in power and influence, we may face the real prospect of AI-generated threats like biological or chemical weapons,” Sen. Budd said in a statement. “The federal government must not be caught flat-footed on these threats and should begin to prepare now. I’m glad to join with Senator Markey to lead the Senate to face potential AI threats head on.”

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Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.