This piece was co-authored with Isabel Pérez del Puerto.
“Never send a human to do a machine’s job” said Agent Smith in The Matrix as he fought to defend their technological dominance against humans. We are not fighting in a parallel reality, but the truth is that machines are part of practically everything we do and develop. The word of 2022 was a concept made of two: artificial intelligence. This technology, integrated into computer programs, generates content, predictions and recommendations using IT and statistical techniques. Its use brings new functionalities to the upcoming and already existing products and processes, which means that, in the near future, artificial intelligence will be so common in our lives that we will take it for granted.
“The future is our world, the future is our time” Smith threatened. To avoid this dark scenario, it is important to understand and enhance the benefits, but also minimise the risks of artificial intelligence. For this, it is necessary to legislate, and Europe wants to be a pioneer. Brussels has already published a first draft to regulate the use of this technology, which final text is likely to be adopted in 2023.
“There is a big difference between knowing the path and walking the path” explained Morpheus in The Matrix. Regulating a world that does not exist is extremely complex and, therefore, Europe’s leadership represents a great challenge. An artificial intelligence system has the ability to learn and improve over time. This feature poses a tough question for regulators who mistakenly tend to replicate the procedures of the tangible economy in the digital economy. The European draft introduces different obligations for companies depending on their use of this technology. If incorporating artificial intelligence implies a violation of any of the fundamental rights of EU citizens, its use is prohibited. There are also restrictions in the case of companies that belong to sectors such as education, human resources or medical equipment because, to add artificial intelligence applications in their products or services, they must demonstrate that their systems are secure, transparent and accurate. However, if an artificial intelligence system learns and changes over time, when will retesting be necessary? Who is responsible for complying with the new requirements, the companies that develop the systems or those that use them? These issues are not sufficiently addressed in the proposed legislation.
“There are no unanswered questions, only poorly formulated questions” Morpheus also said. Despite its shortcomings, the European regulation on artificial intelligence is revolutionary. Europe will be the first economy to stipulate the procedures that must be followed when using this technology. This will be one of the most important laws to be passed during the Von der Leyen Commission since it will determine the future competitiveness of EU companies. However, whoever gets first does not always reap the most benefits. By imposing an additional cost when developing and using artificial intelligence systems, the EU risks segregating itself from its largest source of technology, the U.S. According to the OECD, in 2022, venture capital investment in artificial intelligence companies in the U.S. was four times higher than in the EU. Building regulatory bridges that minimise or eliminate the costs of cross-border exchanges is a crucial aspect that the new regulation must incorporate. It is not technologically feasible for Europe to develop all the artificial intelligence applications and store all the data that its economy requires to remain competitive. Failure to close this regulatory gap will not only increase the cost of artificial intelligence systems from outside the EU, but will harm European companies that are part of the nascent value chain developing this technology.
“I can only show you the door. You’re the one that has to walk through it” Morpheus told Neo, the hero of The Matrix. Artificial intelligence systems are sophisticated services, where companies from various countries exchange ideas, services, technology and data to produce them. That is why maintaining an economy that is open to these exchanges is a necessary requirement for the EU and its companies to be part of and benefit from this new technology. Rules governing the development and use of artificial intelligence in Europe need to address its risks, but also be sensitive to the ever-changing and intangible nature of the technology they seek to regulate. If the EU succeeds, it will not have to choose between the blue or the red pill in the future of its technological growth.
A Spanish version of this article was published in El País on the 22nd January 2023, it can be found here.