Putting the Public First: The Road to Accountable AI

We agree that AI innovation cannot come at the cost of our rights, and that AI’s benefits should be broadly and equitably shared with all people, especially those historically left behind.

On Monday, a group of public interest and civil society organizations released, “Put the Public in the Driver’s Seat: Shadow Report to the US Senate AI Policy Roadmap,” responding to the Senate’s recently unveiled AI legislative roadmap. The Senate’s roadmap is an important step forward on bipartisan consensus and legislative direction, but as we have already noted, it leaves key questions open. The Shadow Report challenges Congress to address many of these questions head on, and we support many of the goals articulated in the report, recognizing the urgency of creating policies that serve the public good in the era of artificial intelligence. As the report notes, the public interest and tech accountability communities have long shined a light on how AI can exacerbate inequality, concentrate power, and harm vulnerable communities. We at Public Knowledge believe that AI also has the potential to be an incredible force for good – but that requires a bold vision for AI that prioritizes the public at every step.

Led by Senator Schumer, the Senate’s approach through its Insight Forums has been anything but transparent. These forums have largely amplified the interests of industry heavyweights, sidelining a broader spectrum of voices from civil society. Public Knowledge was one of the few civil society organizations invited to participate, and this privilege only deepens our responsibility to advocate for the inclusion of more public interest representatives in these discussions. It’s crucial that the process of shaping technology policy goes beyond the inner circle of tech companies, media conglomerates, and other corporate interests and includes a diverse array of experts from academia, nonprofit research labs, and civil society organizations. There is a narrative that in order to have informed decision-making, policymakers need to listen to the companies building and being affected by the technology, but there is also a wealth of expertise, technical knowledge, and profound policy thinking happening in the public interest – as the Shadow Report highlights with its mountains of evidence – and Congress must bring that resource to bear on these critical issues.

Alignment with the Shadow Report

We stand fully behind the Shadow Report’s critique of the Senate’s industry-centric approach and its call for a shift toward a legislative process driven by democratic values and the public interest. But beyond just process, the eleven substantive issues raised by the report represent critical areas where policy action is needed.

Both the Shadow Report and Public Knowledge emphasize the need for robust regulatory frameworks to govern AI. Technology needs clear guardrails, both to protect the public and to support broad development and adoption. AI is no exception, and presents new and challenging regulatory questions. As an institution with decades of experience with technology and telecommunication regulation, Public Knowledge argues that a dedicated digital regulator, equipped with comprehensive oversight capabilities, would be the best solution for expert and adaptable regulation and would complement existing antitrust and other sector specific agency protections.

Moreover, both Public Knowledge and the Shadow Report are united in the call for legislation that actively protects privacy and civil rights, and mitigates systemic biases, particularly to safeguard vulnerable and marginalized communities.

We agree that AI innovation cannot come at the cost of our rights, and that AI’s benefits should be broadly and equitably shared with all people, especially those historically left behind.

That means enforcing existing laws and finding gaps that require new protections, but also passing long-overdue legislation to comprehensively protect our privacy and minimize data collection.

Lastly, the necessity of addressing power imbalances in AI innovation is a critical point of alignment. We must urgently pursue regulations and policies now to prevent an AI oligopoly, stop anticompetitive practices that harm consumers, and encourage a diverse ecosystem of AI development. We wholeheartedly support the call to use all the tools of antitrust and consumer protection, and strengthen and supplement them where needed, to create an AI ecosystem that serves the public. We must break down barriers to entry, prohibit unfair business practices, and ensure that we have an industrial policy for AI where public funding flows directly to public benefit. We believe that programs like the National Artificial Intelligence Research Resource (NAIRR) can serve as a foundation for the public sector to invest in AI development at every level of the ecosystem, including by building publicly accessible and publicly accountable public AI systems which can serve as competitors to privatized ones. This is not a substitute however for strong antitrust enforcement and greatly needed pro-competition policies. Both are necessary.

Other areas of the Shadow Report are vital for public consideration as well. Particularly in an election year, we must all ensure that the rapid progress of generative AI technology is not used as an excuse for deception or leveraged to undermine the trust in our democratic processes and public dialogue. The massive potential of AI to liberate people from drudgery and improve the quality and productivity of our work can only be justly harnessed by ensuring that workers are empowered to make decisions about the design and implementation of AI in their work. The value of productivity gains must also be broadly shared, and the effects of inevitable economic displacement must be mitigated. And finally, in everything we do, we must be mindful of our shared responsibility for the stewardship of our planet; as we race towards innovation, we must ensure that this race does not outpace our efforts to secure a sustainable future.

Make It an Even Dozen: Openness Is One More Critical Issue for Congress

While our alignment with the report is significant, there is an essential area where Public Knowledge’s concerns extend beyond the issues discussed in both the Senate Roadmap and the Shadow Report. The report outlines eleven issues as a floor for discussion and we would add one more that is critical: openness.

Since our founding, we at Public Knowledge have fought to preserve an Open Internet and access to creative works, communications tools, and our shared knowledge. We staunchly advocate for the freedom to learn and the open access to information, both of which are crucial for innovation and equitable societal advancement. This means championing the protection of fair use of copyrighted material, which supports the vibrancy of our creative communities and upholds the principles essential for a dynamic digital culture. AI as a technology has created disruption and uncertainty about our culture of openness and sharing, but these are foundational principles for a society that lifts up everyone. Rather than turning away from an open and shared culture in response to AI, we must instead act together to address harms, mitigate risks, and enshrine policies that will ensure AI serves as a public good.

Openness is also what drives accountability and innovation. Open-source and public-interest AI research and development has been the main source of information we have about the risks posed by AI, and remains the best source of the tools and interventions we have for meaningful accountability. The freedom to access and use information also drives competition and innovation that will diversify training data, tools, and uses of AI technology that would rarely develop among collusive and consolidated private interests.

An Affirmative Vision for AI Policy

In reiterating our affirmative policy vision, Public Knowledge stresses the importance of ensuring that AI benefits are broadly and equitably shared. We are advocates for robust public oversight and accountability of AI technologies. Our vision supports an innovation landscape that reflects a range of needs and does not consolidate power among a few entities. This approach is vital for ensuring that AI serves as a tool for enhancing public welfare instead of a tool for increased surveillance, entrenched societal bias, and monopolistic profits.


Looking ahead to the legislative work on AI in Congress, it’s imperative that the process starts with diverse civil society voices and assigns meaningful power to communities impacted by AI. Public Knowledge remains committed to working alongside policymakers to improve the path charted by the AI legislative roadmap. The critique and evidence of the Shadow Report, added to protecting digital openness can ensure it fully reflects a spectrum of public interest values as it is translated into legislation. We stand ready to work united with our allies and stakeholders to ensure that AI technology leads to a more creative and connected future for all.