European lawmakers close to launching ‘world’s first rules’ on artificial intelligence

Photo credit: Andrea De Santis

The European Union has taken a significant step towards regulating artificial intelligence by adopting a draft negotiating mandate on what it claims would be the “world’s first rules” on AI.

The European Parliament’s Internal Market Committee (ITRE) and the Civil Liberties Committee (LIBE) adopted the draft mandate on Thursday (May 11), with 84 votes in favor, 7 against and 12 abstentions.

The new rules are designed to ensure that AI systems are safe, transparent, non-discriminatory, traceable, and environmentally friendly, and are “overseen by people.”

The proposal was amended by members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to have a uniform definition for AI “designed to be technology-neutral, so that it can apply to the AI systems of today and tomorrow,” according to a press release.

The legislation follows a risk-based approach, with providers and users having specific obligations depending on the level of risk involved in using the AI.

Under the draft mandate, AI systems with “an unacceptable level of risk to people’s safety” would be strictly banned.

These include systems that deploy subliminal or purposefully manipulative techniques, exploit people’s vulnerabilities or are used for social scoring such as those that classify people according to their social behavior, socio-economic status, and personal characteristics, among others.

“We are on the verge of putting in place landmark legislation that must resist the challenge of time. It is crucial to build citizens’ trust in the development of AI, to set the European way for dealing with the extraordinary changes that are already happening, as well as to steer the political debate on AI at the global level.”

Brando Benifei, Member of the European Parliament

In China, for example, a social credit scoring system known as the ‘Social Credit System’ monitors and rates the behavior of individuals, businesses, and organizations based on various criteria, including financial history, criminal records, online activities, and social behavior.

In late 2021, China signed off on recommendations proposed by Unesco on the ethics of AI. The pledge includes putting an end to social scoring systems and other technologies that are seen to endanger human rights.

The recommendations on the ethics of AI, adopted by Unesco’s 193 member states in November 2021, highlight policy actions that should be undertaken to ensure that the development, deployment and use of AI is done ethically.

The EU’s proposed new rules also cover these goals, adding more recommendations including banning “intrusive and discriminatory uses of AI systems” such as the following:

  • ‘Real-time’ remote biometric identification systems in publicly accessible spaces
  • ‘Post’ remote biometric identification systems, except for those used by the law enforcement to prosecute serious crimes
  • Biometric categorization systems that use sensitive characters such as gender, race, ethnicity, citizenship status, religion, political orientation
  • Predictive policing systems that are based on profiling, location or past criminal behavior
  • Emotion recognition systems in law enforcement, border management, workplace, and educational institutions, and
  • Indiscriminate scraping of biometric data from social media or CCTV footage to produce facial recognition databases

MEPs have also added AI systems to influence voters in political campaigns and in recommender systems used by social media platforms to the high-risk list.

Another major proposal is additional transparency requirements for generative foundation models like GPT, like disclosing that the content was generated by AI.

Earlier this month, the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority launched an initial review of “AI foundational models,” such as large language models or LLMs powering OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Microsoft’s Bing Chat.

The probe focuses on the competition and consumer protection considerations of developing and using these AI models.

A recent surge in the popularity of AI-generated music, featuring computer-generated vocals that mimic those of real artists, has sparked controversy in the music industry. 

These tracks have amassed millions of streams on various digital streaming platforms, leading to discussions around copyright infringement and other ethical concerns. The use of artificial intelligence in music creation raises questions about the role of technology in artistic expression and the impact on the future of the music industry.

Meanwhile, earlier this year in China, the government drew up proposals to restrict the development of generative Artificial Intelligence in the country.

The proposed measures, published on Tuesday (April 11) by the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) and titled Administrative Measures for Generative Artificial Intelligence Services, would apply to the research, development, and use of generative artificial intelligence products within China.

“We are on the verge of putting in place landmark legislation that must resist the challenge of time. It is crucial to build citizens’ trust in the development of AI, to set the European way for dealing with the extraordinary changes that are already happening, as well as to steer the political debate on AI at the global level,” said co-rapporteur Brando Benifei.

“We are confident our text balances the protection of fundamental rights with the need to provide legal certainty to businesses and stimulate innovation in Europe,” Benifei continued. 

Co-rapporteur Dragos Tudorache (Renew, Romania) added: “Given the profound transformative impact AI will have on our societies and economies, the AI Act is very likely the most important piece of legislation in this mandate.”

“It’s the first piece of legislation of this kind worldwide, which means that the EU can lead the way in making AI human-centric, trustworthy and safe. We have worked to support AI innovation in Europe and to give start-ups, SMEs and industry space to grow and innovate, while protecting fundamental rights, strengthening democratic oversight and ensuring a mature system of AI governance and enforcement.”

The draft negotiating mandate still needs to be endorsed by the whole Parliament, with the vote expected during the June 12-15 session.

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