Challenging tech giants: European lawmakers approve EU AI Act
European lawmakers have overwhelmingly voted to approve the European Union’s AI Act, which could set unprecedented restrictions on how companies use artificial intelligence.
The AI Act would ban systems that present an “unacceptable level of risk,” such as predictive policing tools already in place in several US states, or social scoring systems, like those used in China, to classify people based on their behavior.
The legislation also sets new limits on “high-risk AI,” like systems able to influence voters or harm people’s health.
Specifically targeting the viral generative AI models such as ChatGPT, the AI Act would require content created by such systems to be labeled. Finally, the bill prohibits these models from publishing summaries of copyrighted data.
Significant hurdles ahead
This is potentially the single most important proposal because ChatGPT and other AI-based bots generate humanlike speech by scraping text from the internet – often from copyrighted sources but also from social media sites like Reddit.
Reddit is moving to charge for the use of its Application Programming Interface (API) partly because AI companies such as OpenAI have been scraping huge amounts of the site’s data to train their systems – for free.
If the AI Act is adopted in Europe (it will still need to be discussed with EU member states in the European Council), this will no longer be possible in the bloc. The threat is so grave that OpenAI, the creator of ChatGPT, has said it may be forced to pull out of Europe (the firm has since changed course).
The EU has spent years developing its AI-related legislation. The European Commission first released a proposal more than two years ago, and has amended it in recent months to address new concerns introduced by recent advances in generative AI.
"AI raises a lot of questions – socially, ethically, economically. But now is not the time to hit any 'pause button.' On the contrary, it is about acting fast and taking responsibility," EU industry chief Thierry Breton said.
One of the issues that might become problematic while thrashing out the details of the bill in the European Council is facial recognition and biometric surveillance. Some lawmakers in the European Parliament want a total ban, while certain EU countries prefer an exception for national security, defense, and military purposes.
The move still solidifies Europe’s position as the de facto global tech regulator, The Washington Post says. The new amendments, if adopted, will influence tech policymaking around the world.
De facto global tech regulator?
This is also a challenge to the power of certain tech giants. However, a collision course might still be avoided, as some global corporations could adjust their practices in advance.
For example, Microsoft has already said it would “extend the rights that are at the heart of GDPR” to all consumers globally, regardless of whether they reside in Europe.
The General Data Protection Regulation is a regulation in EU law on data protection and privacy in the bloc. Many American tech companies find the EU data privacy laws problematic.
In May, Google launched its chatbot Bard in over 180 countries and territories across the world but left the EU behind. The big day was then supposed to come last week, but another postponement followed after the Irish Data Protection Commission, which enforces GDPR, requested privacy assessments.
Digital Europe, a trade organization representing European businesses striving to prosper from digital technologies, has called the vote in the European Parliament a “significant step towards setting a European AI rulebook.”
“It is right that deployers of high-risk uses should have most of the obligations. Self-assessment is welcome and will give companies much-needed flexibility. However, national authorities will need much more resources to hire AI experts and deal with the expected volume of paperwork,” the organization also warned.
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