Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald UH-Hilo professor Travis Mandel stands for a photo Wednesday outside the Department of Computer Science and Engineering.
16 Feb 2024

Legislature tackles artificial intelligence

As artificial intelligence grows more advanced, state lawmakers are pushing to regulate the controversial technology in Hawaii.

A number of AI-related bills are moving through the state Legislature this week, each one proposing some degree of state control over the future of the rapidly advancing technology.

The most prescriptive of the bills, Senate Bill 2687, would strongly curtail the spread of certain AI-generated material during election years without a disclaimer identifying it as such.

The measure would prohibit the distribution of “materially deceptive material” — defined as AI-generated material that falsely depicts a person’s appearance or voice, or depicts a person “engaging in speech or conduct in which the depicted individual did not in fact engage” in such a way that would be convincing to a reasonable viewer — during election years between February and Election Day without the presence of a clearly visible (or audible, in the case of audio-only material) and persistent disclaimer.

While the language of the bill suggests the prohibition would only apply to material whose distribution is intended to impact the voting behavior of people by convincing them that the person depicted did or said things they did not, it also states that any depicted individual, electoral candidate or otherwise, could sue for injunctive relief.

Violators could be found guilty of a petty misdemeanor.

“Generative AI is a very real threat to election integrity — realistic fake media clips or images could go viral and cause a lot of confusion about what actually transpired,” said Travis Mandel via email, an associate professor of computer science at the University of Hawaii at Hilo who was awarded a federal grant of more than $500,000 in 2020 to research AI.

Mandel pointed to recent events, including a 2023 AI image disseminated by Florida governor and then presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis seeming to depict Donald Trump hugging Anthony Fauci, former chief medical adviser to the president. When grouped with legitimate photographs of the two together, the false picture of the embrace became hard to distinguish from the truth.

“My only concern with this bill is it does not go far enough — instead of restricting such depictions only during an election year, surely misleading depictions of real individuals (politician or not) should always be required to bear such a disclaimer,” Mandel wrote.

The other two bills, House Bill 2176 and Senate Bill 2572, would establish bodies within the state government to develop policies and regulations to govern AI. The former would create an Artificial Intelligence Working Group, while the latter would establish an Office of Artificial Intelligence Safety and Regulation within the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs.

The House bill already has unanimously passed two House committee hearings, although the first hearing substantially reduced its impact. The bill’s original form would have established an “Artificial Intelligence Safety and Regulation Act” that would have effectively prohibited the use of AI products within the state without first proving the product posed no substantial risk to health, safety or the environment.

That version of the measure was largely unpopular among various state agencies and business organizations. State Chief Information Officer Doug Murdock pointed out in January that AI products are already in wide use in Hawaii — noting certain features embedded into widely used applications like Zoom.

“We’ll have to find a way to work with AI,” Murdock said. “It’s already in the environment.”

Murdock recommended the formation of a working group, which prompted the amendment of the measure into its current form.

Meanwhile, the Senate bill still includes language similar to the original text of HB 2176. Mandel said he believes the bill would be significantly harmful to the state’s economy in its current form, pointing out the measure does not provide adequate definitions for AI or a system for how anyone could prove an AI product’s safety.

“As an example, UH-Hilo is preparing to launch a data science major in the fall, which has a large focus on teaching students artificial intelligence and machine learning skills,” Mandel said. “If this bill were enacted, it is unclear how we could possibly teach this program.

“Student projects on AI would seem to be prohibited by this bill, unless they individually receive written approval from a government office.”

Both SB 2572 and HB 2687 will have committee hearings in their respective chambers today. The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing will take place at 9:30 a.m. while the House Joint Committee on Commerce and Consumer Protection and Labor and Technology will take place at 9:45 a.m.

Email Michael Brestovansky at

Source: Hawaii Tribune-Herald