AI Act: A Historic Victory for European Values
21 December 2023
The announcement of the provisional agreement to establish the first comprehensive regulatory framework on AI by the European Union marks a historic development. At a time when even the creators of technological innovation publicly express concerns about the potential for unchecked dominance of machines over humans, Europe is taking a leading initiative. It aims to impose fundamental principles and values on the technological development of the 4th Industrial Revolution.
The agreement aims to ensure that AI is utilised in a transparent, fair, safe, and environmentally friendly manner without limiting possibilities and opportunities for European AI-related start-ups. Among other provisions, it guarantees that AI-generated content will always be labelled as such, and AI systems interacting with humans will be required to inform the user that they are in contact with a machine. Human control systems for machines and the installation of risk management systems are also foreseen.
Simultaneously, a distinction is made between systems classified as ‘high-risk,’ such as those used in sensitive areas like critical infrastructure, training, human resources, and public order. Particularly in the latter category, the use of remote biometric identification systems in public places is restricted to avoid mass surveillance of populations. The text goes beyond theoretical considerations and establishes a necessary control mechanism—the European AI Office, which will coordinate compliance and enforcement, having the authority to impose significant financial penalties.
Despite reservations expressed about the potential impact on Europe’s technological competitiveness, a balanced approach has been taken to ensure that research is not restricted while implementing strict regulations, mainly on large-scale applications. In this framework, the technology market itself acknowledges that the new legislation leaves companies room for manoeuvre, despite the restrictions.
While Europe may not be in a position to take the technological lead in the development of the 4th Industrial Revolution, it has demonstrated its ability to use its organised market and institutions to regulate an environment which risks becoming chaotic.
Let us make no mistake: technology will always advance faster than bureaucratic negotiations of regulations.
Within four months, we transitioned from ChatGPT 3 to ChatGPT 4, representing a shift from a system with 175 billion parameters to one with a trillion parameters.
The time it took for ChatGPT to ‘reinvent’ itself was not enough to pass the regulation from the European Parliament to the Council, a distance of less than one kilometre in the heart of Brussels. Considering that the text was initially presented in 2021 and the regulation is not expected to take effect before 2025, the significant difference in the reaction reflexes becomes understandable. Nonetheless, the importance of the European decision remains substantial. The EU is the first international entity to successfully impose regulatory rules on the development of artificial intelligence, establishing crucial parameters of transparency, accountability, and control, while making the technology more human-centred.
Europe has proven itself to be the most sensitive international actor in protecting human rights and upholding fundamental principles and values. It is now laying the foundation for further development of a stronger international regulatory framework, providing a model that could be adopted more widely with country-specific adaptations. Additionally, the rules are likely to be applied outside the EU for platform functionality reasons.
It also paves the way for a similar intervention at the level of International Law, which would have been imperative had the EU not taken action, given that the UN recently seems to have sunk into a quagmire of inefficiency and mere observation of major international developments.
In any case, the EU appears to have learned a crucial lesson from the uncontrolled growth of technological giants. It has taken steps to address this issue belatedly, as these wholly unregulated platforms became available for the dissemination of fake news and hate speech, resulting in profound social and political consequences. That is why the EU’s regulatory intervention on AI, following the Digital Service Act and other related legislation, is a step of historic importance, no matter how modest it may appear today.
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