Regulators Consider Adopting Rules for AI

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Legislators on both sides of the Atlantic are considering regulating the use of algorithms and artificial intelligence (AI) systems. Similar to the way the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), adopted in 2018, creates a framework for regulating the use of personal data, regulations covering AI would create a framework for eliminating bias and other forms of potential harm.

European Commissioner Věra Jourová joined Stacey Plaskett, member of the US House of Representatives, at the recent Web Summit to discuss how technology can be made safe for all.

Stacey Plaskett (left) and Věra Jourová.

In a press conference before the Summit session, Jourová, Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for Values and Transparency, said, “The digital revolution has a lot of positive elements. It brought new opportunities for our democracies, and during the COVID-19 pandemic, digital technologies allowed us to stay in touch with each other or work.”

“Technology is not good or bad. It’s a tool that can be used equally for both purposes.” She argued, “if we want to ensure that people are free to choose, we need to make sure that the information they see online is not fueled by obscure functioning of platforms’ algorithmic systems and an army of undetected bots.”

The dilemma is whether to regulate or not. “My answer is that you have to do both. The time for self-regulatory tools alone is finished. At the same time, I also don’t believe we will be able to regulate everything, nor should we.”

Stacey Plaskett, who represents the US Virgin Islands and is a former prosecutor, agrees that the European data protection rules are now considered a framework for new privacy and digital protection regulations. However, she also argues that laws need to be fair and not so restrictive to affect innovation.

“What members of Congress need to understand is our job to create the barriers, not necessarily to be in each of the details, but to create in essence a sandbox in which social media and other technologies will play fair,” she said.

“We are also concerned about the vulnerabilities of American people: youth, misinformation going to different sectors of our country, whether it is to minorities, whether it is to women specifically… the microtargeting that goes on.”

“I think there is a recognition that we need some safeguards to be in place, that allow technology to continue to innovate, while at the same time protecting people, and protecting the system, the free market, and society-at-large.”

One of the key topics during the session was the upcoming European Digital Services Act. The new regulation, set for final approval by the European Parliament this year, will include additional provisions for regulating big internet companies and specific ones for platforms reaching more than ten percent of the population.

Věra Jourová acknowledged the difficulties of her US counterparts in enacting similar rules, mainly because of the impact on the advertising industry. However, while insisting that the rule of law needs to apply, there is hope for compromise.

In an apparent reference to the previous US Administration, Jourová mentioned that a new chapter in US – EU relations is being written this year. Where relations had been frozen for some time, “we can work to find common ground on tech regulations. We [Europe and the US] are facing similar problems, and we share many common values. We should try to find similar solutions. Not the same solutions, because we also have different traditions, experiences, history, and so on.” However, she emphasized that, due to the amount of private data that is continuously transferred between Europe and the United States, “we desperately need to see equivalent legislation, and level of protection on the American side. This is not just what I am saying; it is what the European Court of Justice is saying.”

“For the Digital Services Act, we are not considering using the Digital Protection Authorities for the new rules. It will be up to the [European] Member States to decide the enforcers because they have to allocate the resources as it will be a lot of new work.”

“Once we transfer the data of Europeans, the protection [that EU citizens have at home] has to travel with the data.” She concluded.

Both politicians also agreed that privacy and access to unbiased information had become a privilege only enjoyed by countries and people with means. People of low income or living in the developing world have no expectation of privacy.

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