The EU’s AI Act could be the start of a new era of human-centred technology development or wind up as a cynical watered-down document that forfeits European values in an ill-advised attempt to gain a competitive edge. The choice between these two futures is being made right now as EU member states negotiate the final language of this new law.
While far from perfect, an approved AI Act could serve as a blueprint for democracies around the world as a pathway to regulate AI while protecting democratic values.
The latest reports seem to indicate that some member states are placing an aspiration to compete with the US and China above the need to protect European citizens’ privacy and agency. Abandoning the values of human-centred technology development will not help the EU to better compete with the US and China. Instead it will forfeit Europe’s one big advantage: codified respect for human privacy and agency.
With GDPR, the Digital Services Act, and the Digital Markets Act, the EU is already the epicentre of a human-centred approach to technology development and a meaningful AI Act that protects privacy and prohibits manipulation will only increase the EU’s global lead edge in safe technology. Member state governments should continue to embrace this ethic because, despite what the lobbyists may tell them, this is a source of strength and not weakness.
Europe can be world market leader in responsible technology, but this requires member states to endorse the AI Act without any further watering down and to make further investments in safe AI technology. Being the main source of technology products that will not manipulate nor spy on citizens will place Europe in the lead of a massive and growing global safe technology market, if only we hold to our values.
Trying to catch up to the US and China at this stage would take a further investment of hundreds of billions of euros, which the Union is not prepared to fund and which would be better spent on defence and supporting Ukraine. Passing the AI Act (without any further watering down) and seizing the giant market for trusted technology goods is the wisest way forward.
It’s also the one that is the safest for democracy.
Defend Democracy, Brussels, 30 January 2024