MEPs chart path for a European approach to Artificial Intelligence

President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen looks at the invention 'Baxter Cobot', during a visit at the AI Xperience Center at the VUB (Vrije Universiteit Brussel) in Brussels, Belgium, 18 February 2020. [EPA-EFE/STEPHANIE LECOCQ / POOL]

EU lawmakers debated the bloc’s approach to regulating Artificial Intelligence technologies on Tuesday (12 May), in an effort to chart a path for how the EU will manage the onset of next-generation technologies.

As part of a series of debates in Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee on Tuesday afternoon, MEPs exchanged ideas concerning several reports on Artificial Intelligence, covering ethics, civil liability, and intellectual property.

The reports represent Parliament’s recommendations to the Commission on the future for AI technology in the bloc, following the publication of the executive’s White Paper on Artificial Intelligence, which stated that high-risk technologies in ‘critical sectors’ and those deemed to be of ‘critical use’ should be subjected to new requirements.

One Parliament initiative on the ethical aspects of AI, led by Spanish Socialist Ibán García del Blanco, notes that he believes a uniform regulatory framework in the field of AI in Europe is necessary to avoid member states adopting different approaches.

“We felt that regulation is important to make sure that there is no restriction on the internal market. If we leave scope to the member states, I think we’ll see greater legal uncertainty,” García del Blanco said on Tuesday.

In the context of the current public health crisis, García del Blanco also said the use of certain biometric applications and remote recognition technologies should be proportionate, while respecting the EU’s data protection regime and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

A new EU agency for Artificial Intelligence?

One of the most contested areas of García del Blanco’s report was his suggestion that the EU should establish a new agency responsible for overseeing compliance with future ethical principles in Artificial Intelligence.

“We shouldn’t get distracted by the idea of setting up an agency, European Union citizens are not interested in setting up further bodies,” said the conservative EPP’s shadow rapporteur on the file, Geoffroy Didier.

The centrist-liberal Renew group also did not warm up to the idea of establishing a new agency for AI, with MEP Stephane Sejourne saying that there already exist bodies that could have their remits extended.

In the previous mandate, as part of a 2017 resolution on Civil Law Rules on Robotics, Parliament had called upon the Commission to ‘consider’ whether an EU Agency for Robotics and Artificial Intelligence could be worth establishing in the future.

Another point of divergence consistently raised by MEPs on Tuesday was the lack of harmony in key definitions related to Artificial Intelligence across different Parliamentary texts, which could create legal loopholes in the future.

In this vein, members highlighted the need to work towards joint definitions for Artificial intelligence operations, in order to ensure consistency across Parliament’s four draft recommendations to the Commission.

Civil liability

Leading Parliament’s report on civil liability in Artificial Intelligence technologies, EPP’s Axel Voss adopted a softer regulatory approach, saying that the EU should rely on existing frameworks as much as is possible, including the Product Liability Directive.

Moreover, Voss stated on Tuesday that ‘strict liability rules’ should be placed on the ‘deployer’ or the ‘user’ of the technology itself – a position several MEPs found fault with.

“This regulation should not place the burden of liability so heavily on the deployer, bearing in mind that deployers are often just ordinary consumers,” S&D’s Tiemo Wölken said. “I think the liability should be more fairly distributed.”

However, Voss’ position on mandatory insurance for users of AI did receive agreement in other political sections of the committee, including Renew’s Liesje Schreinemacher, who nonetheless noted that it could be challenging to conceive of a one-size-fits-all approach in the field of mandatory insurance frameworks.

For their part, the Commission wants to ensure that victims of AI accidents are not less protected compared to victims of ‘traditional’ technologies and that they are afforded similar legal rights, according to DG Justice’s Dirk Staudenmayer.

Intellectual property rights

In terms of intellectual property rights in AI, Renew’s Stéphane Séjourné, who is leading Parliament’s report on the issue, called for an impact assessment on the field to be conducted, in a world where more creations are produced by automated means.

“A new issue is arising here because the creative processes are increasingly automatised,” Séjourné said.

“So should technological artistic creation generated by AI be protected or not? I would tend to say it should be protected.”

Amendments to the Parliament reports are set to be debated in the Legal Affairs Committee later in June, ahead of a vote on the texts, currently scheduled for 28 September, after which a plenary vote will take place in October.

The European Commission aims to publish a follow up to its White Paper on Artificial Intelligence in Q4 this year but is also considering the necessity of delaying any further plans in the field until 2021.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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