Europe moves forward on AI regulation, challenging the power of tech giants

European Union lawmakers on Wednesday took a critical step toward imposing unprecedented restrictions on how companies use artificial intelligence, putting Brussels on a collision course with American tech giants funneling billions of dollars into the technology.

The European Parliament has adopted its position on legislation known as the EU AI Act, which would ban systems that present an unacceptable level of risk, such as predictive policing tools or social scoring systems, such as those used in China to rank people on basis of their behavior and socioeconomic status. The legislation also sets limits for high-risk AI, such as systems that could influence voters in elections or harm people’s health.

The legislation would set new guardrails on generative AI, requiring tagging of content created by systems like ChatGPT. The bill also requires companies to publish summaries of copyrighted data used to train the technology, a potential obstacle for systems that generate human-like speech by pulling text from the Internet, often from sources that include a copyright symbol.

The threat posed by the legislation is so severe that OpenAI, the creator of ChatGPT, has said it could be forced to withdraw from Europe, depending on what is included in the final text. The approval of the European Parliament is a key step in the legislative process, but the bill still awaits negotiations with the European Council, whose composition is made up largely of heads of state or government of EU countries.

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Today we made history, co-rapporteur Brando Benifei, an Italian member of the European Parliament working on the AI ​​law, said in a press conference. Benefei said lawmakers have paved the way for a dialogue with the rest of the world on building responsible AI.

Unlike national lawmakers, the European Union has spent years developing its legislation on artificial intelligence. The European Commission first published a proposal more than two years ago and has revised it in recent months to address new concerns introduced by recent advances in generative AI.

The EU’s progress on AI legislation contrasts sharply with the picture in the US Congress, where lawmakers are once again grappling with the risks of AI in light of the growing popularity of ChatGPT. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (DN.Y.), who is leading bipartisan efforts to create an AI framework, said lawmakers are likely months away from considering any legislation, saying to the Washington Post that lawmakers would start looking into specific things in the fall.

Meanwhile, the EU bill builds on already existing scaffolding, adding to EU laws on data privacy, competition in the tech sector and social media harms. Already these existing laws affect companies’ operations in Europe: Google planned to launch its Bard chatbot in the EU this week, but had to postpone that move amid requests for privacy assessments from the Irish Data Protection Commission, which applies the European data protection regulation. Italy has temporarily banned ChatGPT for fears of violating European data privacy rules.

The move solidifies Europe’s position as the de facto global technology regulator, setting rules that influence technology policies around the world and standards likely to fall on all consumers as companies shift their practices internationally to avoid a patchwork of policies. Microsoft, for example, has said it will extend the rights that are at the heart of the GDPR to all consumers, regardless of whether they reside in Europe.

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Meanwhile, efforts are progressing slowly in the United States, where Congress has not passed a federal online privacy law or other comprehensive legislation regulating social media. On Tuesday, Schumer hosted the first of three private AI briefings for lawmakers. MIT professor Antonio Torralba, who specializes in computer vision and machine learning, was expected to brief lawmakers on Where is AI Today, covering where AI is being used and its current capabilities. The next session will look at the future of AI and how it could evolve over the next decade, and the third session, which will be classified, will cover how the military and intelligence community use AI today.

Thirty-six Democrats and 26 Republicans attended the briefing, according to Gracie Kanigher, Schumer’s press secretary. The senators said the strong attendance signaled deep interest in the topic on Capitol Hill and described the briefing as largely educational. Schumer told The Post that Congress has a lot to learn.

It’s hard to embrace something so complicated and so rapidly changing but so important, she said.

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Several Democratic lawmakers said they were wary of falling behind Europe yet again in setting the rules of the road for technology.

The United States should be the point of reference. We need to lead that debate globally, and I think we’re behind where the EU is at, said Sen. Michael F. Bennett (D-Colo.).

But Sen. Mike Rounds (RS.D.), who is working with Schumer on artificial intelligence, said he is less concerned with falling behind in creating new guardrails than he is with ensuring the United States can stay behind. globally at the forefront of developing tools such as generative AI.

We won’t lose that lead, but what we do with legislation, our goal, is to make sure we incentivize the creation of AI, allow it to grow faster than in other parts of the world, but also protect the rights of individuals, Rounds said after the briefing.


An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that the bill would prevent AI companies from publishing summaries of copyrighted data. Indeed, the bill would require companies to publish summaries of that data. This story has been corrected.

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