European representatives in Strasbourg recently concluded an extensive 37-hour discussion, resulting in the world’s first extensive framework for regulating artificial intelligence. This ground-breaking agreement, facilitated by European Commissioner Thierry Breton and Spain’s AI Secretary of State, Carme Artigas, is set to shape how social media and search engines operate, impacting major companies.
The deal, achieved after lengthy negotiations and hailed as a significant milestone, puts the EU at the forefront of AI regulation globally, surpassing the US, China, and the UK. The new legislation, expected to be enacted by 2025, involves comprehensive rules for AI applications, including a
risk-based system to address potential threats to health, safety, and human rights.
Key components of the agreement include strict controls on AI-driven surveillance and real-time biometric technologies, with specific exceptions for law enforcement under certain circumstances. The European Parliament ensured a ban on such technologies, except in cases of terrorist threats, search for victims, or serious criminal investigations.
MEP Brando Benefei and Dragoș Tudorache, who led the negotiations, emphasised the aim of developing an AI ecosystem in Europe that prioritises human rights and values. The agreement also includes provisions for independent authorities to oversee predictive policing and uphold the presumption of innocence.
Tudorache highlighted the balance struck between equipping law enforcement with necessary tools and banning AI technologies that could pre-emptively identify potential criminals. (Minority Report anyone?)
The highest risk AI systems will now be regulated based on the computational power required for training, with GPT4 being a notable example and the only technology fulfilling this criterion.
Some Key Aspects
The new EU AI Act delineates distinct regulations for AI systems based on their perceived level of risk, effectively categorizing them into “Unacceptable Risk,” “High Risk,” “Generative AI,” and “Limited Risk” groups, each with specific obligations for providers and users.
AI systems deemed a threat to people’s safety or rights will be prohibited. This includes:
- AI-driven cognitive behavioural manipulation, particularly targeting vulnerable groups, like voice-activated toys promoting hazardous behaviours in children.
- Social scoring systems that classify individuals based on behaviour,
socio-economic status, or personal characteristics.
- Real-time and remote biometric identification systems, like facial recognition.
- Exceptions exist, such as “post” remote biometric identification for serious crime investigations, subject to court approval.
AI systems impacting safety or fundamental rights fall under high-risk, subdivided into:
- AI in EU-regulated product safety categories, like toys, aviation, cars, medical devices, and lifts.
- Specific areas requiring EU database registration, including biometric identification, critical infrastructure management, education, employment, public services access, law enforcement, migration control, and legal assistance.
- High-risk AI systems must undergo pre-market and lifecycle assessments.
AI like ChatGPT must adhere to transparency protocols:
- Disclosing AI-generated content.
- Preventing generation of illegal content.
- Publishing summaries of copyrighted data used in training.
- Limited Risk
- These AI systems require basic transparency for informed user decisions, particularly for AI that generates or manipulates visual and audio content, like deepfakes. Users should be aware when interacting with AI.
The legislation sets a precedent for future digital regulation. As we saw with the GDPR, Governments outside the EU used the legislation as a foundation for their own laws and many corporations adopted the same privacy standards from within Europe for their businesses worldwide for efficiency. This could easily happen in the case of the EU AI Act with governments using it as a ‘starter for ten’. It will be interesting to see how the legislation will cater for algorithmic biases found within current iterations of the technology from facial recognition technology to other automated decision making algorithms. The UK did publish its AI White Paper in March of this year and says it follows a “Pro-Innovation” approach. However, it seems to have decided to go ‘face first’ before any legislation is passed with facial recognition software recently used in the Beyoncé gig, King Charles’ coronation and during the Formula One Grand Prix. For many, it is the impact of the decision making the software is formulating through the power of AI which is worrying. The ICO does have useful guides on the use of AI which can be found here.
As artificial intelligence technology rapidly advances, exemplified by Google’s impressive Gemini demo, the urgency for comprehensive regulation was becoming increasingly apparent. The EU has signalled its intent to avoid past oversights seen in the unchecked expansion of tech giants and be at the forefront of regulating this fascinating technology to ensure its ethical and responsible utilisation.
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