Apr 22, 2021 - Technology

The global race to regulate AI

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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Regulators in Europe and Washington are racing to figure out how to govern business' use of artificial intelligence while companies push to deploy the technology.

Driving the news: On Wednesday, the EU revealed a detailed proposal on how AI should be regulated, banning some uses outright and defining which uses of AI are deemed "high-risk."

  • "It is a big move, and will put pressure on the United States to toughen AI regulations," said Darrell West, senior fellow at the Center for Technology Innovation at the Brookings Institution.

In the U.S., the federal government has yet to pass legislation specifically addressing AI, though some local governments have enacted their own rules, especially around facial recognition.

But Monday, the Federal Trade Commission laid out a tough restatement of its role enforcing laws related to AI, addressing the sale and use of algorithms that:

  • Deny people employment, housing or benefits;
  • Encode racial bias; or
  • Result in credit discrimination.

Acting FTC chairwoman Rebecca Slaughter told Axios: “I am pleased that the European Commission shares the FTC’s concerns about the risks posed by artificial intelligence... I look forward to reviewing the EC’s proposal as we learn from each other in pursuit of transparency, fairness, and accountability in algorithmic decision making.”

Why it matters: Artificial intelligence is no longer in its infancy and already has wide uses. Global governments are trying to wrap their arms around it, often taking different approaches.

  • The U.S. and the EU both aim to ensure AI doesn't discriminate against marginalized communities, taking somewhat different paths to get there.
  • Experts warn that if the Atlantic allies aren't on the same page, China and Russia will end up setting terms that give repressive governments free rein.
  • "The U.S. and EU need to have a coordinated approach so the two can work together... The question is whether you can harmonize all the provisions, because in general, the EU is tougher than the U.S. on tech regulation," said West.

What they're saying: The EU's move "is another wake-up call for the U.S. that it needs to retain its leadership position in the development in these sorts of legal frameworks," said Christian Troncoso, senior director of policy at BSA | The Software Alliance.

  • "The U.S. is going to really need to start being a little bit more forward-leaning and willing to engage with big trade partners like the EU on the development of norms around technology," he said.

Be smart: Regulators move slower than technology. Just this week, the ACLU and dozens of other advocacy groups called on the Department of Homeland Security to stop using Clearview AI's facial recognition software.

  • BuzzFeed news recently reported that 1,803 publicly funded agencies have used Clearview AI.
  • A number of giant tech companies, including Microsoft, Amazon and IBM, have called on the federal government to set clear rules around AI, particularly around facial recognition.

The bottom line: Regulators want to get the details right, but they also believe they have a rare chance with AI to put legal and ethical guardrails around a new technology before it's already deployed everywhere. That window will close fast.

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