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Europeans take big step towards regulating AI, including for facial recognition


In the latest version of Europe’s bill passed on Wednesday, generative AI would face new transparency requirements. That includes publishing summaries of copyrighted material used for training the system, a proposal supported by the publishing industry but opposed by tech developers as technically infeasible. Makers of generative AI systems would also have to put safeguards in place to prevent them from generating illegal content.


Francine Bennett, acting director of the Ada Lovelace Institute, an organisation in London that has pushed for new AI laws, said the EU proposal was an “important landmark.”

“Fast-moving and rapidly re-purposable technology is of course hard to regulate, when not even the companies building the technology are completely clear on how things will play out,” Bennett said. “But it would definitely be worse for us all to continue operating with no adequate regulation at all.”

The EU’s bill takes a “risk-based” approach to regulating AI, focusing on applications with the greatest potential for human harm. This would include where AI systems are used to operate critical infrastructure like water or energy, in the legal system, and when determining access to public services and government benefits. Makers of the technology will have to conduct risk assessments before putting the tech into everyday use, akin to the drug approval process.

A tech industry group, the Computer & Communications Industry Association, said the EU should avoid overly broad regulations that inhibit innovation.

“The EU is set to become a leader in regulating artificial intelligence, but whether it will lead on AI innovation still remains to be seen,” said Boniface de Champris, the group’s Europe policy manager. “Europe’s new AI rules need to effectively address clearly-defined risks, while leaving enough flexibility for developers to deliver useful AI applications to the benefit of all Europeans.”


One major area of debate is the use of facial recognition. The European Parliament voted to ban uses of live facial recognition, but questions remain about whether exemptions should be allowed for national security and other law enforcement purposes.

Another provision would ban companies from scraping biometric data from social media to build out databases, a practice that drew scrutiny after it was used by the facial-recognition company Clearview AI.

Tech leaders have been trying influence the debate. Sam Altman, the CEO of OpenAI, the maker of ChatGPT, has in recent months visited with at least 100 American politicians and other global policymakers in South America, Europe, Africa and Asia, including Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission. Altman has called for regulation of AI, but has also said the EU’s proposal may be prohibitively difficult to comply with.

After the vote Wednesday, a final version of the law will be negotiated between representatives of the three branches of the EU — the European Parliament, European Commission and the Council of the European Union. Officials said they hope to reach a final agreement by the end of the year.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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