Can europe prevent an artificial intelligence dystopia?

A EU intend to regulate artificial intelligence could see companies that break proposed rules on mass surveillance and discrimination fined an incredible number of euros. Draft legislation, leaked before its official release later this month, suggests the EU is wanting to locate a “third way” on AI regulation, between your free market US and authoritarian China.

As presently worded, the guidelines would ban AI designed to manipulate people “with their detriment”, perform indiscriminate surveillance or calculate “social scores”. A lot of the language is vague enough that the regulations could cover the entire advertising industry or nothing at all. Regardless, the military and any agency ensuring public security are exempt.

Some “high risk” activities would be allowed, at the mercy of strict controls, including measures to avoid bringing racial, gender or age bias into AI systems. As possible targets, the legislation mentions systems to automate job recruitment, assigning places at schools, colleges or universities, measuring fico scores or deciding the outcome of visa applications. Companies in breach could possibly be fined up to €20 million, or 4 % of global turnover.

In ways, the news is no real surprise, as the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, promised to urgently generate AI legislation when she was elected in 2019. But Lilian Edwards at Newcastle University, UK, says the draft laws will concern the tech industry. “I applaud the ambition, nevertheless, you can’t imagine it getting through in this state,” she says.

Edwards compares the approach to the way EU regulates consumer products, which must meet certain requirements to be imported. “That’s much harder related to AI as it’s not necessarily a straightforward product,” she says. “You’re heading inexorably towards a trade war with Silicon Valley or weak enforcement.”

China and the united states have previously made huge strides in implementing AI in a variety of industries, including national security and police. In China, the everyday movement of citizens in many cities is monitored by facial recognition and there are many public and private trials of a “social credit score” that will in the end be rolled out nationwide. These scores could be lowered by infractions such as for example playing video games for too much time or crossing the street on a red pedestrian light and may be raised by donating to charity. If your score drops too low, you might be denied rail travel or shamed in online lists.

Read more: Robot laws: Why we need a code of conduct for AI – and fast

Meanwhile, in america, where many tech giants are based, a light-touch, free-market method of regulation was encouraged by Donald Trump’s administration, while current president Joe Biden has taken no firm public stance.

Daniel Leufer at Access Now, among the groups which has previously advised the EU on AI, says Europe has long had a strategy to have a third way between the US and China on tech regulation, and says the draft legislation has promise.

But he warns there are “big warning flag” around some factors of the draft legislation, including the creation of a European Artificial Intelligence Board. “They will have plenty of influence over what gets added to or removed from the high-risk list and the prohibitions list,” he says, meaning precisely who sits on the board will be key.

The EU has had previous success in influencing global tech policy. Its General Data Protection Regulation, introduced in 2018, inspired similar laws in non-EU countries and in California, the house of Silicon Valley. In response, however, some US organizations have simply blocked EU customers from accessing their services.

It remains to be observed whether the UK will observe the EU in regulating AI given that it has left the bloc. THE UNITED KINGDOM Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy told New Scientist that the federal government has formed an unbiased panel called the Regulatory Horizons Council to advise on what regulation is required to respond to new technology such as AI.

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