European Union approves the AI Act, regulating AI

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FILE PHOTO: European flags fly outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium September 20, 2023. REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo

European Union policymakers have reached a significant milestone by endorsing groundbreaking legislation to oversee artificial intelligence (AI), setting the stage for the most ambitious set of standards to govern the utilization of this transformative technology.

The approval of the “AI Act” on Friday followed nearly 38 hours of negotiations between legislators and policymakers. EU chief Ursula von der Leyen underlined the global pioneering nature of the AI Act, describing it as a unique legal framework that instils trust in AI development, prioritizing the safety and fundamental rights of individuals and businesses.

Efforts to pass the “AI Act,” initially proposed by the EU’s Commission in 2021, gained momentum after the public awareness spike resulting from the release of OpenAI’s ChatGPT last year. The law is widely regarded as a global benchmark for governments seeking to harness the benefits of AI while mitigating risks such as disinformation, job displacement, and copyright infringement.

Despite delays caused by disagreements over the regulation of language models handling online data and the utilization of AI by law enforcement and intelligence services, the legislation will now proceed to member states and the EU parliament for approval.

The law mandates that tech companies operating in the EU disclose data used for training AI systems and conduct testing, particularly for products in high-risk applications like self-driving vehicles and healthcare.

Key provisions include the prohibition of indiscriminate scraping of images from the internet or security footage to create facial recognition databases. However, exceptions are made for the use of “real-time” facial recognition by law enforcement to investigate terrorism and serious crimes. Violations by tech companies could result in fines of up to 7% of global revenue, contingent on the violation and the size of the firm.

The EU’s legislation represents the most comprehensive effort to date in regulating AI amidst a global landscape of varied guidelines and regulations. In the United States, President Joe Biden issued an executive order in October addressing AI’s impact on national security and discrimination. China has implemented regulations requiring AI to align with “socialist core values,” while the UK and Japan have opted for a hands-off approach to regulation.

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