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EU lawmakers agree on toughening AI rules

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The European Union has voted to include harsher transparency and risk-management rules in the bloc's AI Act, while companies like Google increasingly incorporate artificial intelligence into their products.

Members of the European Parliament have voted to add a raft of amendments to the much-awaited 'EU AI Act', the world's first comprehensive legislation regulating the use of artificial intelligence (AI) technology.   

The law covers a wide range of AI applications, including controversial uses such as smart chatbots like ChatGPT, facial recognition and biometric surveillance. 

Under the new draft, providers of foundational models will be required to apply safety checks, data governance measures and risk mitigations prior to putting their models on the market.

The regulation would classify AI tools based on their perceived level of risk to health, safety, fundamental rights, the environment, and democracy and the rule of law. Those tools that employ "subliminal or purposefully manipulative techniques, exploit people’s vulnerabilities or are used for social scoring" would be banned.

The amendments would require developers of foundational models to reduce their system's energy consumption. All AI systems will also have to be registered in an EU database set to be established by the AI Act.

Moreover, developers of generative AI technologies such as ChatGPT will also be obliged to include disclaimers letting users know the content was machine-generated; design the model to prevent it from generating illegal content, and provide summaries of all copyrighted materials used to train their algorithms. 

These changes aim to ensure that AI systems are "safe, transparent, traceable, non-discriminatory and environmentally friendly", while providing a "uniform definition for AI designed to be technology-neutral", officials said. 

“Given the profound transformative impact AI will have on our societies and economies, the AI Act is very likely the most important piece of legislation in this mandate," said Romanian co-rapporteur Dragos Tudorache. 

"It’s the first piece of legislation of this kind worldwide, which means that the EU can lead the way in making AI human-centric, trustworthy and safe. We have worked to support AI innovation in Europe and to give start-ups, SMEs and industry space to grow and innovate, while protecting fundamental rights, strengthening democratic oversight and ensuring a mature system of AI governance and enforcement."

Italian co-rapporteur Brando Benifei added: “We are on the verge of putting in place landmark legislation that must resist the challenge of time. It is crucial to build citizens’ trust in the development of AI, to set the European way for dealing with the extraordinary changes that are already happening, as well as to steer the political debate on AI at the global level”.

Although the AI Act has been in the works since 2021, the rapid rise in popularity of AI tools such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT has brought the legislation firmly into the limelight.

These free AI tools can generate text in response to a prompt, including to articles, essays, jokes and even university law exams. However, governments and experts have raised concerns about the risks these tools could pose to people’s privacy, human rights and safety. 

In response to ChatGPT's popularity, other companies have moved quickly to incorporate AI technology into their products. Earlier today (Thursday 11 May), Google revealed it is rolling out more advanced AI technology to its search engine. The move follows Microsoft's decision to incorporate ChatGPT into its own search engine, Bing.

At its inaugural public unveiling last month, Google's AI Bard faced heavy criticism after it was shown to provide inaccurate information in various promotional materials, causing the price of Google stock to plummet. However, Google now says it will make the chatbot available to users in more than 180 countries and more languages beyond English, with the company reportedly panicked about the threat to its core search business from AI competitors. 

“We are at an exciting inflection point,” said Sundar Pichai, Alphabet's chief executive. “We are reimagining all our products, including search.”

The new AI-powered features are expected to include a 'Help Me Write' option for Gmail and a 'Magic Editor' tool that will automatically edit pictures.

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