EU Reaches Historic AI Act Deal: What it Means for Business and Society

The groundbreaking legislation aims to ensure AI systems marketed and used in the EU are trustworthy and respect fundamental rights.

EU Reaches Historic AI Act Deal: What it Means for Business and Society
Parliamentarians passed the legislation after a mammoth 37-hour negotiation. Photograph: Jean-François Badias/AP

After marathon negotiations, the European Union has reached a provisional political agreement on the Artificial Intelligence Act, hailed as establishing "global first" comprehensive rules for governing AI.

The Act creates obligations on companies developing or deploying AI based on the level of risk their systems pose. It prohibits certain "unacceptable risk" AI applications altogether while laying out transparency and accountability measures for high-risk systems. The rules strive to boost AI innovation in Europe while protecting citizens' rights and addressing potential societal harms.

Key Takeaways:

  • Safeguards agreed on general purpose artificial intelligence
  • Limitation for the of use biometric identification systems by law enforcement
  • Bans on social scoring and AI used to manipulate or exploit user vulnerabilities
  • Right of consumers to launch complaints and receive meaningful explanations
  • Fines ranging from 35 million euro or 7% of global turnover to 7.5 million or 1.5% of turnover

What it Covers: Risk-Based Rules and Bans

Several concerning AI uses will face outright bans under the Act. This includes biometric identification systems that categorize people based on sensitive personal characteristics like race, political orientation or sexual orientation. Blanket scanning of facial images from the internet or surveillance cameras to power facial recognition will also be prohibited.

In addition, AI that seeks to manipulate people in ways that impede free will or exploit vulnerabilities will be banned. The same applies to AI used for social scoring of behavior. These rules address rising fears about potential psychological, civil liberties and discrimination impacts tied to such AI applications.

The agreement does carve out narrowly defined exceptions allowing law enforcement to use biometric identification if given prior judicial approval. But permitted use cases remain limited to searching for suspects of serious crimes or preventing imminent terror threats. Strict safeguards must be followed to mitigate risks in these cases.

The bulk of the Act's rules relate to "high-risk" AI systems. The negotiators classified any AI applications that could significantly harm health, safety, fundamental rights, livelihoods or democracy as high-risk. This captures AI in sectors like healthcare, employment, law enforcement, migration management, credit-lending and more.

Companies creating high-risk systems face transparent design, development and deployment requirements. For instance, they must assess risks to fundamental rights and document steps taken to address them. Ongoing monitoring must ensure the AI remains safe and compliant once deployed.

The agreed text also empowers citizens to file complaints and request explanations around high-risk AI impacting them. This accountability aims to provide course-correction avenues if the systems misstep.

What it Means: Guiding AI's Evolution

The deal has been widely praised as a milestone in responsibly shaping AI by major figures like EU President Ursula von der Leyen. It aims to give businesses clear rules to innovate ethically while building trust.

Once formalized, companies creating or operating high-risk AI within Europe will need to ensure compliance. But the Act's effects will likely ripple worldwide, as nations look to the precedent on balancing opportunity and principles. Either by inspiring other countries' policies or defaulting firms toward meeting its provisions, the EU AI Act could end up de facto steering the trajectory of AI development globally.

As leaders emphasized, much relies on effective national implementation and enforcement. But if achieved, the EU will have staked out a bold vision for a human-centric AI future that respects rights while also fostering growth. The marathon may soon be ending in Brussels, but the real race to realizing better AI starts now.

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