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European Parliament adopts world’s first law to regulate AI 

New rules ban certain AI applications, defines clear obligations for other high-risk AI systems, and  requires labelling of manipulated images

European Parliament adopts world’s first law to regulate AI 
[Source photo: Chetan Jha/Press Insider]

The European Parliament on Wednesday, 13 March, adopted the world’s first law to regulate artificial intelligence (AI) as concerns rise over the use of the technology. 

The regulation, agreed in negotiations with member states in December, was endorsed by members of European Parliament (MEPs) with 523 votes in favor, 46 against, and 49 abstentions.

The regulation establishes obligations for AI based on its potential risks and level of impact.

The AI Act is subject to a final lawyer-linguist check, and also needs to be formally endorsed by the European Council before it comes into effect. It will enter into force 20 days after its publication in the official journal, and be fully applicable 24 months after that. 

During the plenary debate in the European Parliament on Tuesday, MEP Brando Benifei said, “We finally have the world’s first binding law on artificial intelligence, to reduce risks, create opportunities, combat discrimination, and bring transparency.”

“We ensured that human beings and European values are at the very center of AI’s development,” Benifei, who serves as the internal market committee co-rapporteur, said. 

“The AI Act is a starting point for a new model of governance built around technology,” MEP and EU’s civil liberties committee co-rapporteur Dragos Tudorache said. 

The AI Act classifies products according to risk and adjusts scrutiny accordingly.

The new rules ban certain AI applications that threaten citizens’ rights, including biometric categorisazion systems based on sensitive characteristics and untargeted scraping of facial images from the internet or CCTV footage to create facial recognition databases. 

Emotion recognition in the workplace and schools, social scoring, predictive policing when it is based solely on profiling a person or assessing their characteristics, and AI that manipulates human behavior or exploits people’s vulnerabilities will also be deemed illegal.

The law has also banned the use of biometric identification systems by law enforcement, except in clearly defined situations such as a targeted search of a missing person or preventing a terrorist attack. It can only be deployed if strict safeguards are met, its use is limited in time and geographic scope, and subject to specific prior judicial or administrative authorization. 

The AI Act also defines clear obligations for other high-risk AI systems due to their significant potential harm to health, safety, fundamental rights, environment, democracy and the rule of law. Examples of high-risk AI uses include critical infrastructure, education and vocational training, employment, essential private and public services such as healthcare and banking, certain systems in law enforcement, migration and border management, justice and democratic processes. 

The law mandates such systems to assess and reduce risks, maintain use logs, be transparent and accurate, and ensure human oversight. 

EU citizens will have a right to submit complaints about AI systems and receive explanations about decisions based on high-risk AI systems that affect their rights.

General-purpose AI (GPAI) systems, and the GPAI models they are based on, have to meet certain transparency requirements, including compliance with EU copyright law and publishing detailed summaries of the content used for training. 

The more powerful GPAI models that could pose systemic risks will face additional requirements, including performing model evaluations, assessing and mitigating systemic risks, and reporting on incidents.

The law also requires labelling of artificial or manipulated images, audio or video content such as deepfakes. 

MEP Dragos Tudorache said the Act links the concept of artificial intelligence to the fundamental values that form the basis of our societies. 

“However, much work lies ahead that goes beyond the AI Act itself. AI will push us to rethink the social contract at the heart of our democracies, our education models, labor markets, and the way we conduct warfare,” Tudorache added.

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