The EU AI Act – a look at the world's first comprehensive AI laws

On Friday, the EU provisionally agreed on the world's first comprehensive AI laws.

The EU AI Act – a look at the world's first comprehensive AI laws
Artificial Intelligence words are seen in this illustration taken March 31, 2023. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

The backstory: About a year ago, OpenAI's ChatGPT made a big splash in the world of artificial intelligence (AI). But the rapid development of AI has raised concerns worldwide. Countries like the US, the members of the EU, Brazil and China have been working on rules to make sure AI is used responsibly and doesn't cause harm, like by spreading misinformation or amplifying bias.

The EU is taking the lead here. It started with regulatory proposals in 2021, including topics like banning mass surveillance or social credit scoring using AI. But the eruption of generative AI last year urged lawmakers to rethink how to regulate the technology. The EU AI Act, stemming from those initial regulatory proposals, is a key part of this effort. And EU member states have been working out all the details over the past few years. 

The development: On Friday, the EU provisionally agreed on the world's first comprehensive AI laws. This came after more than 36 hours of negotiations over rules for AI, including technologies like ChatGPT and facial recognition. This law sorts AI into different risk levels and stresses transparency, making sure there are rules about revealing AI-generated content and registering foundational models. 

Before this, there were intense talks within major EU institutions about regulating generative AI models and using biometric tools. 

Some EU countries, like Germany, France and Italy, disagreed on directly regulating generative AI models. They prefer companies to self-regulate with government codes of conduct, as they're worried that too many rules could hurt Europe's competitiveness against tech leaders in China and the US, where promising AI startups are doing well. The European Parliament will vote on the AI Act proposals early next year, but any laws won't go into effect until at least 2025. 

Key comments: 

"Parliament's priority is to make sure that AI systems used in the EU are safe, transparent, traceable, non-discriminatory and environmentally friendly. AI systems should be overseen by people, rather than by automation, to prevent harmful outcomes," said a statement by the European Parliament. "Parliament also wants to establish a technology-neutral, uniform definition for AI that could be applied to future AI systems."

"Europe has positioned itself as a pioneer, understanding the importance of its role as a global standard setter. This is, yes, I believe, a historical day," European Commissioner Thierry Breton told a press conference.

"It's hard to be excited about a law which has, for the first time in the EU, taken steps to legalise live public facial recognition across the bloc," said privacy rights group European Digital Right senior policy advisor Ella Jakubowska.

"We are continuing to invest in the teams that work on applying our AI Principles to our technology," said Brian Gabriel, a spokesperson for Google, to Bloomberg in April.