Landslide EU plenary vote lays groundwork for first-ever comprehensive AI regulation laws

Today, the European Parliament approved the EU AI Act, with 499 votes in favour, 28 against, and 93 abstentions. 

The plenary vote comes after members of the body last month discussed and approved amendments to the Act, notably, pushing a total ban on uses of artificial intelligence for remote biometric surveillance and predictive policing, as well as “untargeted scraping of facial images from the internet or CCTV footage to create facial recognition databases”.

Proposed by the EU in 2021, the AI Act is far from becoming law, but today’s critical vote clears a major hurdle to the first-ever comprehensive set of regulations for governing AI to become law.

Negotiators at EU institutions such as the EU executive body and 27 member states will now debate the Act before it becomes law.

Committee member Brando Benifei said after the vote, “While Big Tech companies are sounding the alarm over their own creations, Europe has gone ahead and proposed a concrete response to the risks AI is starting to pose. We want AI’s positive potential for creativity and productivity to be harnessed but we will also fight to protect our position and counter dangers to our democracies and freedoms during the negotiations with Council.”

Regulators globally have raised concerns about the rapid adoption of AI, particularly generative AI, as worries around job displacement, misinformation, bias, and threats to privacy, the education system, and national security become more apparent.

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) agreed to bring generative AI under greater scrutiny by mandating developers of generative AI models to register their models in the EU database before their release on the EU market. AI developers will also have to comply with transparency requirements (disclosing that content is AI-generated, or distinguishing deep-fake images from real ones) and implement safeguards against generating illegal content. Additionally, they will  have to provide detailed summaries of copyrighted data used for the training of their models.

Last month, Sam Altman, chief executive of OpenAI, the force behind ChatGPT, went on a European tour warning against this particular piece of legislation as “over-regulation”, right after he called for an international regulatory body for AI in the U.S. Senate subcommittee meeting. He suggested the company might even shut down its services in the region if it is unable to comply.

The act, however, adds exemptions for research activities and AI components provided under open source licenses, which MEPs suggest will boost innovation and support SMEs. The new law also promotes regulatory sandboxes, established by public authorities to test AI before it is deployed.

Further, MEPs expanded the classification of high-risk applications to include AI systems that pose “significant harm to people’s health, safety, fundamental rights or the environment. 

AI systems used to influence votes, the outcome of elections and in the algorithms/recommender systems used by large social media platforms were also added to the high-risk list.

Citizens will have the right to file complaints about AI systems and receive explanations of decisions based on high-risk AI systems that impact their fundamental rights. As a result, the EU AI Office has been reformed to monitor how the AI rulebook will be implemented.

“AI raises a lot of questions, socially, ethically, economically, but now, it is not the time to hit any pause button.” said European Commissioner for Internal Market, Thierry Breton in a Twitter post. “On the contrary, it is about acting fast and taking responsibility. We are working together to make Europe a world leader in transparent AI, protecting fundamental rights, reflecting our EU values and boosting innovation for the benefit of our 40 million fellow citizens and our businesses.

He added, “today’s vote shows that we can reconcile trust and innovation, as we have no time to lose”.

The first trilogue (a tripartite meeting between the European Commission (EC), the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament) on the legislation took place earlier today in Strasbourg, France.

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Ashee Pamma
Ashee Pamma
Ashee is a writer for ITWC. She completed her degree in Communication and Media Studies at Carleton University in Ottawa. She hopes to become a columnist after further studies in Journalism. You can email her at [email protected]

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