European Union Approves World's First AI Regulation Laws in Historic Deal
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The European Union has reached a historic deal to pass the world's first comprehensive law aimed at regulating artificial intelligence. After prolonged negotiations in the European Parliament, a deal was reached on Friday, December 8th.
The landmark law is called the "Artificial Intelligence Act" or "AI Act." It's expected to go into force by next year and become fully applicable by 2026. This agreement paves the way for the world's most ambitious regulation aimed at controlling AI systems that have taken the world by storm.
But this innovation has also been accompanied by serious technical as well as ethical concerns. The AI Act is aimed at addressing some of these to demand greater accountability from evolving AI technology and its makers.
Let's take a closer look at the proposed law and its implications for the future of AI technology across the world.
What is the EU "AI Act"?
This deal has been closely watched for months. It's the first big move on the global level to create comprehensive artificial intelligence rules.
AI technology has been growing at breakneck speed for the last few years. This growth has raised questions about ethics, intellectual property laws, and data privacy.
Certain AI systems will be banned under the EU Act. These include:
- Biometric systems which use a person's sensitive defining characteristics like sexual orientation, race, etc.
- "Untargeted" scraping of facial image data (facial recognition) from online or CCTV sources.
- Emotion recognition in workplaces or educational establishments.
Violations of these regulations could attract fines of up to 35 million euros ($38 million) or 7% of a company's global revenue.
Zara Siddique, a Researcher in AI Ethics, told Trademarkia that these are steps in the right direction. She says, “There are some incredibly positive steps happening, such as the prohibition of 'social scoring,' the idea of using people's behavior or personal characteristics to classify people, as well as a ban on emotion recognition in workplaces and schools and predictive policing software. Blanket bans on these types of applications will set a clear standard for the industry.”
However, she cautions that there are some crucial gaps in the current version of the proposed act that should be addressed.
"My concern is that the act won't be able to tackle the more insidious effects of large-scale automated content creation. This will be incredibly difficult to detect and enforce regulations on and has already been shown to manipulate politics, journalism, and the media. Another cause for concern is the exemptions for military and defence departments and external contractors. These sectors are one of the most likely to cause a risk to the public, yet no regulation will apply to them."
Need for regulation in AI
AI technology has grown by leaps and bounds in the last few years. The launch of OpenAI's ChatGPT and its meteoric rise sparked a frantic race between tech companies. This has led to almost unprecedented innovation as well as the adoption of AI systems across industries in just one year.
But this growth has come with challenges. Generative AI systems like ChatGPT and Google's Bard have been accused of copyright infringement. A host of creators and even other platforms like Getty Images made the accusations. Even courts have debated the role of AI in the legal industry.
Even the creators of AI are concerned about its sudden boom. In March 2023, several well-known AI researchers and tech industry leaders signed an open letter calling for caution. These included:
- Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple
- Jaan Tallinn, co-founder of Skype
- Yuval Noah Harari, author
- Craig Peters, CEO of Getty Images
- Elon Musk
The letter says that AI labs are currently locked in an "out-of-control race" to develop and deploy machine learning systems “that no one — not even their creators — can understand, predict, or reliably control.”
This clearly highlights the need to regulate artificial intelligence. The EU AI Act is the first comprehensive AI law that defines some rules around the technology to protect the privacy and rights of the public.
Welcoming the deal, EU President Ursula von Leyden posted on X (formerly Twitter) that "The EU AI Act is a global first. A unique legal framework for the development of AI you can trust. And for the safety and fundamental rights of people and businesses."
Global impact of the "AI Act"
The AI Act will apply to the 450 million residents across 27 countries in the EU, but it's likely to have a much more significant global impact as well.
It's not entirely clear yet how these rules will be applied to non-EU businesses. As a large market bloc, it will be an essential factor for companies across the world.
European policymakers focused on privacy and ethics. Other countries might have different priorities for regulating AI. The Biden administration in the US has already issued an Executive Order that requires greater transparency from AI companies. The order asks them to explain how their AI models work. The EU AI Act is likely to spur action from other countries, too, as their businesses compete in European markets.
As AI rapidly permeates into all our daily lives, the global AI race is bound to intensify. We are likely to see a lot more innovation and disruption in the AI landscape. While this has the potential to make our lives better and easier, it also has the potential to be invasive and harmful. Governments and public authorities can intervene early to reduce these risks. They can also balance the ambitions of AI technology with our fundamental rights and safety.
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Amrusha is a versatile professional with over 12 years of experience in journalism, broadcast news production, and media consulting. Her impressive career includes collaborating extensively with prominent global enterprises. She garnered recognition for her exceptional work in producing acclaimed shows for Bloomberg, a renowned business news network. Notably, these shows have been incorporated into the esteemed curriculum of Harvard Business School. Amrusha's expertise also encompassed a 4-year tenure as a consultant at Omidyar Network, a leading global impact investing firm. In addition, she played a pivotal role in the launch and content strategy management of the startup Live History India.
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