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The complexities surrounding artificial intelligence (AI) policies took center stage at TechCrunch's StrictlyVC event as Helen Toner, former OpenAI board member, expressed her concerns about the potential "knee-jerk" reaction Congress may have towards AI policymaking. Despite obvious efforts towards consumer protections in AI, as emphasized by President Biden's executive order and a clear roadmap laid out by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, a comprehensive, centrally-driven AI legislation remains absent from the Congressional docket.

This legislative void has seen state and local governments stepping into the breach to plug a decidedly futuristic hole. According to the Brookings Institute, an impressive 440% increase in AI-related bills were introduced in 2023 compared to 2022. However, the lack of a uniform federal law has resulted in varied rules for AI across the country. The implications are vast, as Toner rightly flags, creating significant uncertainty for both the AI industry and consumers who stand to benefit from advancements in this field.

Take, for example, California and Colorado. In California, a new set of bills has been devised with the aim of safeguarding consumers and the job market from potential AI-driven disruptions. Meanwhile, in Colorado, AI companies are mandated by law to avoid discrimination in processes, a necessary measure designed to ensure that implicit human biases are not mirrored by AI systems.

Despite such proactive steps, the patchwork of regulations ends up creating an environment of complexity and confusion. For a sector that craves stability and predictability for its futuristic explorations, this current scenario acts as a significant roadblock. It threatens innovation by possibly discouraging existing companies and dissuading newcomers who might find it challenging to navigate the labyrinth of varied legislation.

Then there are the consumers, the intended beneficiaries of AI, who risk finding themselves in a limbo of uncertainty, unsure of their protection rights and in the dark about the extent to which AI can influence their daily lives. Is their data being used ethically? Are they being treated fairly by AI systems? In the absence of comprehensive, federal legislation, these important questions remain largely unanswered.

Toner's solution? A high-level federal mandate would serve as a better alternative than the current array of state-specific regulations. This mandate has the potential to establish a foundational floor of regulations for the entire country, providing a level of consistency and transparency that can fuel the AI industry's growth and reassure consumers of their rights and protections.

The AI revolution is full steam ahead, it's crucial that governmental frameworks fall into step. A streamlined, federal approach to AI policy could not only harness the momentum of this rapidly evolving sector but also ensure AI advancements are made within a safe, ethical, and equitable framework that benefits consumers and industry stakeholders alike. Meanwhile, as we wait for Congress to play catch-up, the AI industry, in all its diversity, continues to shape a future brimming with endless possibilities.