2022 will be a crucial year for the European Union's AI strategy. Here is an outlook what we may expect from the EU in the months to come.
The EU's aspiration to become a forerunner of AI regulation
The EU Commission under President Ursula von der Leyen has made it clear that she aspires to turn the European economy into a frontrunner for digital innovation, by creating an attractive business environment for tech companies, while at the same time protecting citizen's rights against the dangers associated with new developments, such as the use of big data and AI.
Artificial Intelligence is a particular topic that looms large on the agenda of companies, and has in the recent past also been keeping the legislators in Brussels busy. Following the path previously lined out in the White Paper on Artificial Intelligence, the European institutions are currently working on a number of legal acts that are going to be crucial in determining the way in which people in the EU are going to interact with Artificial Intelligence in the future. In this context, the EU has initiated a number of legislative projects with significant progress being expected in the course of this year.
AI-Act to be discussed in parliamentary committees
Most notably, the EU Commission presented its Proposal for a Regulation on a European Approach for Artificial Intelligence, sometimes also referred to as the Artificial Intelligence Act, in April 2021.
One of the initial goals of the proposed act, which is currently being discussed by the co-legislators, the European Parliament and the Council, is to establish an unambiguous and technology-neutral definition of AI systems for EU Law. Moreover, the Commission proposal seeks to ban certain harmful uses of AI that contravene EU values and is aimed at creating more transparency for consumers when using AI driven systems and applications. To make sure that AI systems marketed in the EU are in line with the new rules, the proposal also requires providers to affix the CE marking to certain high-risk AI systems.
The European Parliament announced in mid-December 2021 that, after rounds of preparatory discussions, it had referred the proposal to a joint committee. A draft report on the issue can be expected in the second half of 2022.
Draft act on liability for AI systems and machinery regulation
Another major project is the adaptation of the common product liability rules. Already the 2020 White Paper on AI identified the need to adjust the Product Liability Directive in view of emerging technologies like the use of AI and the perceived associated dangers, such as opacity of algorithms and autonomous behaviour. The Commission carried out a public consultation on the issue, which ended on 10 January 2022, so that new insights can be expected shortly.
Progress is also expected with respect to the redrafting of the Machinery Directive and its transformation into a Machinery Regulation. The Machinery Directive regulates products of mechanical engineering industries with a view to ensuring safety of workers, consumers and other machine users. The update under preparation is to take into account the risks stemming from digital technologies (such as AI, the IoT and robotics). After preparatory work and various rounds of discussions in the Parliament and the Council have taken place over the course of the last years, the Parliament's Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection is expected to vote on the proposal in mid-March 2022.
However, it is not only in the EU that the regulation of AI-based systems is high on the legislative agenda; in the USA, too, there are increasing signs that stricter limits and controls on the possible uses of such systems could soon be prescribed by law. The innovative power of technology companies remains high even in times of the Covid 19 pandemic. Therefore, the latest legislative projects are probably just the beginning of a development that will decisively shape the way we deal with Artificial Intelligence.