Credit: Kevin Ku via Unsplash.

The debate about artificial intelligence in Europe flares up

Europeans agree they want to regulate AI. But they are divided on issues ranging from facial recognition and social scores to the definition of AI.

Each political group in the European Parliament has tabled several hundred amendments, bringing the total to several thousand. The flood came from both the left and the right and will now have to be reconciled in a summer of negotiations.

One of the most controversial topics is about definitions. Left-wing parliamentarians are pushing for a broad general definition of artificial intelligence (AI) rather than accepting a narrow list of AI techniques. Their goal is to make the scheme future-proof. The center-right European People’s Party, on the other hand, sticks to the definition agreed on the OECD† The International Economic Organization has a series principles in 2019 that conservative MEPs claim it would promote international agreement (including with the US) among democracies about building trustworthy AI.

Which practices to ban continues to be divisive. Green MEPs want to ban biometric categorization, emotion recognition and all automated monitoring of human behavior. These include recommendation software that suggests disinformation and illegal content, which is used for law enforcement, migration, work and education.

While these demands go too far for most parliamentarians, the majority seem to ban biometric recognition. Liberals have joined the Social Democrats and the Greens to call for a complete ban, eliminating the exceptions in the European Commission’s original proposal, such as preventing terrorist attacks or identifying a missing person.

Under the proposed AI law, different types of programming are classified as low-risk and high-risk. Low-risk applications have minimal commitments. But high risk requires programmers to take a series of precautions to ensure their plans are safe.

Conservative lawmakers want to narrow the list of high-risk use cases, excluding software designed to assess creditworthiness, among other things. According to them, AI providers should be able to assess for themselves whether their programs pose significant risks to health, safety and fundamental rights. Obligations for high-risk applications should be partially or completely removed if programmers mitigate the risk with countermeasures or built-in features.

By contrast, Green MEPs expanded the high-risk category to include media recommendation software, algorithms used in the health insurance processes, payments and collections.

The Greens are demanding strict environmental requirements and mandatory fundamental rights impact assessments.

Futuristic metaverse applications are under scrutiny. Liberals have introduced a new article to place them within the scope of the regulation, including a reference to blockchain-backed currencies. They want the rules to be applied under certain circumstances to providers that are not established or operating in the EU.

Advertising software is also controversial. An amendment supported by the Tracking Free Ad Coalition wants to include AI systems that deliver online advertisements to the list of high-risk systems. The Green Group has added a paragraph to add a transparency requirement to counter deceptive practices called dark patterns

Enforcement is another crucial issue, raising the traditional debate on whether centralized Brussels or national authorities should take the lead. Lawmakers on both sides seem to agree on giving more investigative powers to the central European authority, with the Greens being particularly ambitious. Conservatives want to give the European Artificial Intelligence Board extra autonomy in setting its own agenda. The Greens want the European Data Protection Supervisor to provide the secretariat of the Management Board and act as a supervisory authority for large companies.

How much should offenders pay? Both liberal and conservative MEPs propose reducing potential fines, with the conservatives including an exception for SMEs in particular and adding factors to consider such as intent, negligence and cooperation in calculating the fine. In contrast, the center-left is pushing for an overall increase in sanctions and for the removal of size and market share considerations from the criteria authorities consider when imposing a fine.

Luca Bertuzzi is the technology editor at Euractiv.com.

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