Sunday, March 3, 2024

Europe within reach of landmark AI rules

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Europe on Friday moved a step closer to adopting rules governing the use of artificial intelligence and AI models such as Microsoft-backed ChatGPT after EU countries endorsed a political deal reached in December.

The rules, proposed by the European Commission three years ago, aim to set a global standard for a technology used in a vast swathe of industries from banking and retail to the car and airline sectors.

They also set parameters for the use of AI for military, crime and security purposes.

EU industry chief Thierry Breton said the Artificial Intelligence (AI) Act is historical and a world first.

“Today member states endorsed the political agreement reached in December, recognising the perfect balance found by the negotiators between innovation and safety,” he said in a statement.

A major concern of experts is that generative AI has boosted deepfakes – realistic yet fabricated videos created by AI algorithms trained on copious online footage – which surface on social media, blurring fact and fiction in public life.

EU digital chief Margrethe Vestager said the spread of fake sexually explicit images of pop singer Taylor Swift on social media in recent days underscored the need for the new rules.

“What happened to @taylorswift13 tells it all: the #harm that #AI can trigger if badly used, the responsibility of #platforms, & why it is so important to enforce #tech regulation,” she said on X social platform.

Friday’s agreement was a foregone conclusion after France, the last holdout, dropped its opposition to the AI Act after securing strict conditions that balance transparency versus business secrets and reduce the administrative burden on high risk AI systems.

The aim is to allow competitive AI models to develop in the bloc, an EU diplomatic official told Reuters earlier on Friday. The official declined to be named because they were not authorised to comment publicly on the issue.

French AI start-up Mistral, founded by former Meta and Google AI researchers, and Germany’s Aleph Alpha have been lobbying their respective governments on the issue, sources said.

Germany earlier this week also backed the rules.

Tech lobbying group CCIA which counts Alphabet’s Google, Amazon, Apple and Meta Platforms as members, warned of roadblocks ahead.

“Many of the new AI rules remain unclear and could slow down the development and roll-out of innovative AI applications in Europe,” CCIA Europe’s Senior Policy Manager Boniface de Champris said.

“The Act’s proper implementation will therefore be crucial to ensuring that AI rules do not overburden companies in their quest to innovate and compete in a thriving, highly dynamic market.”

The next step for the AI Act to become legislation is a vote by a key committee of EU lawmakers on Feb. 13 and the European Parliament vote either in March or April. It will likely enter into force before the summer and should apply in 2026 although parts of the legislation will kick in earlier.


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