July 16, 2024

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Rep. Don Beyer works toward master’s degree in AI

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Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va.

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WASHINGTON — Don Beyer isn’t the average student at George Mason University. He’s 73 years old. He prefers a notebook and pen to a laptop for note-taking. And he’s a top lawmaker on AI policy in Congress.

The Virginia Democrat found AI fascinating, but the breakthrough came when he realized he could enroll in computer science classes at George Mason University. So he enrolled, starting with the prerequisite classes that will ultimately lead him to a master’s degree in machine learning. 

Beyer can only take about one class a semester, as he balances voting on the floor, working on legislation and fundraising with getting his coding homework done. But the classes are already providing benefits. 

“With every additional course I take, I think I have a better understanding of how the actual coding works,” he recently told CNBC. “What it means to have big datasets, what it means to look for these linkages and also, perhaps, what it means to have unintended consequences.”

Beyer is part of almost every group of House lawmakers working on AI. He’s vice chair for both the bipartisan Congressional Artificial Intelligence Caucus and a newer AI working group started by The New Democrat Coalition, the largest groups of centrist Democrats in the House.

He was also a member of former Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s working group on AI, which could be resurrected under Speaker Mike Johnson. On the legislative side, he’s a leader on a bill to expand access to high-powered computational tools needed to develop AI.

Crash course

As members of Congress raced to get themselves up to speed on AI this fall with hearings, forums and a dinner with Open AI CEO Sam Altman, Beyer said his classroom time has given him a perspective on what goes on under the hood.

He’s also learning how easy it can be for a small mistake to have a major impact on code. Beyer said one of his daughters, who is also a coder, sent him a big book about…

2023-12-02 15:24:00

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