The European Commission has finally published its long awaited proposals governing the usage of artificial intelligence (AI) in the years ahead.

Last week the EU’s AI plans had been leaked and revealed to the world that Europe was seeking to ban “indiscriminate surveillance of natural persons” including the monitoring and tracking of people in both the digital and physical worlds.

Now the European Commission has officially unveiled its proposals that include strict use of biometric systems such as facial recognition, as well as potentially massive fines for rule breakers.

Margrethe Vestager.  European Commission

AI rules

“The Commission proposes today new rules and actions aiming to turn Europe into the global hub for trustworthy Artificial Intelligence (AI),” the EC said.

It claims these proposals were the first-ever legal framework on AI, and is aimed at guaranteeing the safety and fundamental rights of people and businesses, while strengthening AI uptake, investment and innovation across the EU.

“On Artificial Intelligence, trust is a must, not a nice to have,” said Margrethe Vestager, executive VP for a Europe fit for the Digital Age. “With these landmark rules, the EU is spearheading the development of new global norms to make sure AI can be trusted.”

“By setting the standards, we can pave the way to ethical technology worldwide and ensure that the EU remains competitive along the way,” said Vestager. “Future-proof and innovation-friendly, our rules will intervene where strictly needed: when the safety and fundamental rights of EU citizens are at stake.”

“AI is a means, not an end,” added commissioner for Internal Market Thierry Breton. “It has been around for decades but has reached new capacities fueled by computing power. This offers immense potential in areas as diverse as health, transport, energy, agriculture, tourism or cyber security. It also presents a number of risks.”

So what exactly is the EC proposing?

Well the European Commission believes that its proposed rules are proportionate and flexible, and will address the specific risks posed by AI systems and set the highest standard worldwide.

  • Firstly it covers unacceptable risk: AI systems considered a clear threat to the safety, livelihoods and rights of people will be banned. This includes AI systems or applications that manipulate human behaviour to circumvent users’ free will (e.g. toys using voice assistance encouraging dangerous behaviour of minors) and systems that allow ‘social scoring’ by governments.
  • High-risk: AI systems identified as high-risk include AI technology used in critical infrastructures; educational or vocational training; safety components of products; employment, workers management and access to self-employment; essential private and public services; law enforcement; migration, asylum and border control management; and finally administration of justice and democratic processes.

The EC proposes that high-risk AI systems will be subject to strict obligations before they can be put on the market:

“In particular, all remote biometric identification systems are considered high risk and subject to strict requirements,” the EC proposed. “Their live use in publicly accessible spaces for law enforcement purposes is prohibited in principle.”

“Narrow exceptions are strictly defined and regulated (such as where strictly necessary to search for a missing child, to prevent a specific and imminent terrorist threat or to detect, locate, identify or prosecute a perpetrator or suspect of a serious criminal offence),” it allowed. “Such use is subject to authorisation by a judicial or other independent body and to appropriate limits in time, geographic reach and the data bases searched.

And the EC proposes that when using AI systems such as chatbots, users should be aware that they are interacting with a machine so they can take an informed decision to continue or step back.

The European Parliament and the Member States will need to adopt the Commission’s proposals on a European approach for AI in the years going forward.

Once adopted, the Regulations will be directly applicable across the EU.

Breaking the rules could lead to fines of up to 6 percent of global turnover, which could be a hefty financial penalty for tech firms with turnovers of many billions of dollars.

Digital strategy

These AI proposals comes after the EC in February 2020 unveiled its highly ambitious ‘digital strategy’ for EU member states over the next five years.

Its digital strategy seeks to encompass tech subjects such as artificial intelligence, broadband, and data collection/sharing, as Europe seeks ways to take back control from American firms such as Google, Facebook and Amazon, as well as Asian rivals.

Despite the EU lacking its own homegrown digital giants, Europe is seeking to impose its own lofty rules that will see European businesses and tech firms engage in a ‘single market” so they can trade data.

The digital strategy also contain its guidance for the use of AI systems in the years ahead.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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