After 36 hours of negotiations, EU member states and lawmakers have reached an agreement on the drafting of “historic” rules regulating artificial intelligence (AI) models, such as ChatGPT. This breakthrough development took place during a meeting in Brussels, where negotiators successfully established limitations on the use of AI in Europe. According to European Union Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton, this political deal represents the first time a continent has established clear rules for AI usage. The AI Act is seen not only as a rulebook but also as a launchpad for EU startups and researchers to lead the global race for trustworthy AI.
The Rush to Regulate AI
The urgency to regulate AI became paramount after the widespread adoption of ChatGPT, a chatbot that showcases the capabilities of generative AI. Critics have expressed concerns regarding the potential misuse of this technology. Generative AI software, including Google’s chatbot Bard, has the ability to produce text, images, and audio from simple everyday language commands. Negotiators initially struggled to reach an agreement, leading to a marathon 22-hour discussion that resulted in a decision to resume talks the following day. Finally, after a total of 36 hours, a conclusive agreement was reached.
The European Commission Takes the Lead
The European Commission had proposed the AI Act in 2021 to regulate AI systems based on risk assessments of the software models. The extent of the obligations imposed on AI systems is determined by the level of risk to individuals’ rights or health. While the political agreement reached is a significant milestone, the law still needs to be formally approved by member states and the parliament before officially taking effect.
The European Union is not alone in its concerns regarding AI. In October, US President Joe Biden issued an executive order on AI safety standards. The United States is also actively pursuing regulations to ensure the responsible development and deployment of AI systems. Furthermore, China implemented legislation specifically regulating generative AI in August of this year. However, the EU’s comprehensive law is set to become the first broad legislation covering the entire AI sector.
One of the main challenges during the negotiations was finding a suitable approach to regulate general-purpose AI systems like ChatGPT. Some member states expressed apprehension that excessive regulation could hinder the growth and competitiveness of European AI champions. France’s Digital Minister Jean-Noel Barrot emphasized the need to preserve Europe’s capacity to develop its own AI technologies. The agreed-upon compromise includes a two-tier approach with transparency requirements for all general-purpose AI models and stricter regulations for more powerful models.
Another contentious issue was the regulation of remote biometric surveillance, particularly facial identification through camera data in public places. Governments advocated for exceptions to be made for law enforcement and national security purposes. While the agreement includes a ban on real-time facial recognition, there will be limited exemptions. Striking the right balance between privacy and security remains a challenge in the context of AI regulation.
Criticism and Concerns
Despite the milestone achieved, not everyone is satisfied with the outcome. Some industry stakeholders have expressed concerns that the focus on speed may have compromised the quality of the regulations. Tech lobbying groups such as CCIA warn of potential disastrous consequences for the European economy and the risk of driving away the very AI champions that the EU aims to empower.
Monitoring and Enforcement
To ensure compliance with the law, the EU will establish the EU AI Office, a new body attached to the commission. The office will have the authority to monitor and sanction individuals or companies that violate the regulations. Penalties could range from fines worth seven percent of a company’s turnover or 35 million euros, whichever is larger.
The EU’s agreement on the AI Act represents a significant step forward in establishing clear rules and regulations for artificial intelligence usage. It not only addresses the concerns surrounding the misuse of AI but also aims to foster the development of trustworthy AI within Europe. As member states and the parliament prepare to formally approve the law, the EU is poised to become a global frontrunner in AI regulation, setting a precedent for other regions to follow.