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EU’s new AI rules will focus on ethics and transparency

The European Union will release a new set of regulations for artificial intelligence this week that are expected to focus on transparency and oversight as a way to differentiate its approach from the United States and China.

On Wednesday, EU tech chief Margrethe Vestager will unveil a wide-ranging plan designed to bolster the region’s competitiveness. While transformative technologies such as AI have been labeled critical, Europe is perceived as slipping behind the U.S., where development is being led by tech giants with deep pockets, and China where the central government is leading the push.

Europe has, in recent years, sought to emphasize fairness and ethics when it comes to tech. Now it’s taking that a step further by introducing rules about transparency around data gathering used for technologies like AI and facial recognition. These systems would require human oversight and audits as well, according to a widely leaked draft of the new rules.

In a press briefing in advance of Wednesday’s announcement, Vestager noted that companies outside the EU who wanted to deploy their tech in Europe might need to take steps like retraining facial recognition features using European datasets. The rules will cover such uses as autonmous vehicles and biometric ID.

But there are carrots as well as sticks in the proposals. The EU will propose spending almost $22 billion annually to build new data ecosystems that can serve as the basis for AI development. The plan assumes that Europe has a wealth of government and industrial data, and it wants to provide regulatory and financial incentives to pool that data, which would then be available to AI developers who agree to abide by EU regulations.

In an interview over the weekend with Reuters, Thierry Breton, the European Commissioner for Internal Market and Services, said the EU wants to amass data gathered in such sectors and manufacturing, transportation, energy and healthcare so it can be leveraged to develop AI for the public good and to accelerate Europe’s own startups.

“Europe is the world’s top industrial continent,” Breton said to Reuters. “The United States have lost much of their industrial know-how in the last phase of globalisation. They have to gradually rebuild it. China has added-value handicaps it is correcting.”

Of course, these rules are spooking Silicon Valley companies. Regulations such as GDPR, even if they officially target Europe, tend to have global implications.

To that end, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg visited Brussels today to meet with Vestager and discuss the proposed regulations. In a weekend opinion piece published by the Financial Times, Zuckerberg called again for greater regulation of technolosies such as AI as a way to help build public trust.

“We need more oversight and accountability,” Zuckerberg wrote. “People need to feel that global technology platforms answer to someone, so regulation should hold companies accountable when they make mistakes.”

Following the introduction of the proposals on Wednesday, the public will have 12 weeks to comment on the rules. The European Commission will then officially propose legislation some time later this year.

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