EU lawmakers struggle to create rules for AI as industry booms

EU lawmakers struggle to create rules for AI as industry booms

The rapid pace of development in artificial intelligence poses challenges for EU parliamentarians.

Quick-moving technological advances in technologies such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT app are causing headaches for European Union lawmakers as they try to agree on new AI laws, sources have told Reuters.

The European Commission proposed a set of draft rules in 2021 to protect citizens from the dangers posed by artificial intelligence (AI), which the Commission saw as concentrating in the areas of surveillance and social scoring. However, the AI industry has experienced a boom in both innovation and investment recently. The emergence of new technologies such as “generative AI” have also posed new challenges for lawmakers. Their objective is to protect the rights of the European citizenry.

Moving to create a “European Union AI Act”

The Commission’s draft rules need to be thrashed out between EU countries and EU lawmakers before they can become law. But a recent marathon meeting meeting on Feb 13 resulted in no agreement to move forward. Sources have told Reuters that “lawmakers are at loggerheads over various facets of the Act”.

The proposed rules have different AI tools being classified according to their perceived risk level. These levels run from minimal through to limited, high, and unacceptable. Each classification has a different regulatory scheme. For example, high-risk tools will require companies to be much more transparent in their operations than lower-risk ones.

However, ChatGPT changed the equation fundamentally. It has swept the globe like a wildfire and seems to offer endless applications. This has prompted EU lawmakers to introduce yet another category. “General Purpose AI Systems” (GPAIS) describe tools that can be adapted to perform a number of functions. It remains unclear if all GPAIS will be deemed high-risk.

Overcome by the pace of change

“The pace at which new systems are being released makes regulation a real challenge,” said Daniel Leufer, a senior policy analyst at rights group Access Now.

Indeed, lawmakers are currently working through the more than 3,000 tabled amendments, covering everything from the creation of a new AI office to the scope of the Act’s rules. Whatever is ultimately produced, MEPs say the Act will be subject to regular reviews, allowing for updates as and when new issues with AI emerge.

Still, Access Now’s Leufer says it is important to get it right. “Discussions must not be rushed, and compromises must not be made just so the file can be closed before the end of the year”, he said. “People’s rights are at stake.”