Bill to use AI to vet consumer product safety moves to Senate

The House bill on AI is bundled together with two bills on blockchain technology and crypto-currency.
Written by Tiernan Ray, Senior Contributing Writer

The U.S. House of Representatives this week approved and sent to the Senate a bill intended to form a pilot initiative to use artificial intelligence to vet whether consumer products are safe. 

H.R. 3723, the Consumer Safety Technology Act, is sponsored by Rep. Jerry McNerney (Dem.), who represents California's 9th congressional district (including East Bay communities Oakland and Berkeley.)

The bill provides for a "pilot program" to examine the use of artificial intelligence by Consumer Product Safety Commission." 


The CPSC, established in 1973, is responsible for vetting the safety of all manner of products for harm, including flammable fabrics and hazardous materials.

The bill proposes that "Not later than 1 year after the date of enactment of this Act, the Consumer Product Safety Commission shall establish a pilot program to explore the use of artificial intelligence by the Commission in support of the consumer product safety mission of the Commission."

The argument for the bill, as argued Tuesday in the House Energy and Commerce Committee by a co-sponsor Michael Burgess (Rep.) of Texas's 26th district (above Dallas, comprising Lewisville, among others), is that the CPSC is dealing with an overload of product data, and automation can help: 

It is safe to say that when the Consumer Product Safety Commission was created, no one anticipated the sheer volume of material that would be being imported, for which they now have responsibility. 

Artifical [sic] intelligence uses algorithms to quickly automate human functions and to filter and analyze data. Artificial intelligence is already advancing capabilities in multiple sectors to better serve consumers by increasing capacity and enhancing outcomes. As artificial intelligence advances, it should be capable of helping predict fail rates and identifying problems in consumer products before they can significantly impact the market.

Burgess made his remarks following remarks by McNerney. 

The bill is actually a re-vamp of a prior bill, H.R. 8128, the Artificial Intelligence for Consumer Product Safety, which passed the House last year, but failed to progress in the Senate.

This time, the bill is being grouped together with two other previously introduced technology bills, the Blockchain Innovation Act, H.R. 8153, sponsored by Darren Soto (Dem.) of Florida's 9th District, and the Token Taxonomy Act, H.R. 1628, sponsored by Warren Davidson (Rep.) of Ohio's 8th District.

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The Blockchain Innovation Act proposes that the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Federal Trade Commission "conduct a study on current and potential use of blockchain technology in commerce and the potential benefits of blockchain technology for limiting fraud and other unfair and deceptive acts and practices."

The Token Taxonomy Act proposes that the FTC make a report every year for the next three years to Congress on how it has dealt with "deceptive acts or practices in transactions relating to digital tokens," meaning, crypto-currencies such as Bitcoin (though they are not specified in the text.) 

The Act, however, also proposes "to promote competition and promote innovation in the global digital token sector."

The legislation on AI is happening at the same time that the Consumer Product Safety Commission has been looking into AI on its own initiative.  

In December, the Commission held a forum on potential uses of AI for determining product safety. The staff of the CPSC describes AI in broad terms:

For this Forum, we are generally defining "Artificial intelligence" (AI) as any method for programming computers or products to enable them to carry out tasks or behaviors that would require intelligence if performed by humans."Machine learning" (ML) is typically understood to be an iterative process of applying models or algorithms to data sets to learn and detect patterns and/or perform tasks, such as prediction or decision making that can approximate some aspects of intelligence.

H.R. 3723 was received in the Senate on Thursday, read twice, and referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, according to the Congressional Record.

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