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EU AI Act: The world’s first comprehensive laws to regulate AI

A brief overview of the latest in AI regulations, and what it means for professionals 

 

Artificial intelligence (AI) is transforming the way we work, communicate, and interact with each other. It can also pose significant challenges and risks to our safety, privacy, and fundamental rights.  

That is why the European Union (EU) has proposed a landmark legislation to regulate the use of AI, known as the Artificial Intelligence Act, or AI Act. The Act aims to foster the development and adoption of trustworthy and human-centric AI across the EU, while ensuring that high-risk AI systems are subject to strict rules and oversight.  

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icon-orange abcs   What is the Artificial Intelligence Act?

  Regulating AI according to risk levels

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  What does the AI act mean for professionals?

 

What is the Artificial Intelligence Act? 

The AI Act is a comprehensive legal framework that covers the entire lifecycle of AI systems, from their design and development to their deployment and use. It defines AI as “software that is developed with one or more of the techniques and approaches listed in Annex I and can, for a given set of human-defined objectives, generate outputs such as content, predictions, recommendations, or decisions influencing the environments they interact with”. The techniques and approaches listed in Annex I include machine learning, logic and knowledge-based approaches, statistical approaches, and combinations thereof. 

The goal of the act is to help regulate AI based on its potential to cause harm to society using a ‘risk-machine based’ approach: the higher the risk, the stricter the regulations. This is the world’s first legislative proposal of its kind – which means it can establish a global standard for AI regulation in other jurisdictions and promote the European approach to technology regulation around the world. 

EU Commissioner Thierry Breton described the plans as “historic”, saying it set “clear rules for the use of AI”. He added it was “much more than a rulebook – it’s a launch pad for EU start-ups and researchers to lead the global AI race”. 

 

Regulating AI according to risk levels 

As part of its digital strategy, the EU wants to regulate AI to ensure better conditions for the development and use of this innovative technology, which can benefit many.  

In April 2021, the European Commission proposed the first EU regulatory framework for AI. It says that AI systems that can be used in different applications are analysed and classified according to the risk they pose to users. The different risk levels will mean more or less regulation. Once approved, these will be the world’s first rules on AI.  

The AI Act classifies AI systems into categories based on different risk levels:
 

Unacceptable risk 

AI systems that are considered to be contrary to the EU’s values and principles, such as those that manipulate human behaviour or exploit vulnerabilities. These AI systems are banned in the EU. Some examples would be voice-activated children’s toys that encourage threatening behaviour or social scoring. 

 

High risk 

AI systems that are used in critical sectors or contexts, such as health care, education, law enforcement, justice, or public administration. These AI systems are subject to strict obligations, such as ensuring data quality, transparency, human oversight, accuracy, robustness, and security. They also need to undergo a conformity assessment before being placed on the market or put into service. 

 

Generative AI 

Generative AI, such as ChatGPT, that creates content such as text, images, or videos, will need to follow transparency requirements, such as: 

  • Stating that the content is not human-made, but AI-generated. 
  • Being designed in a way that prevents it from producing content that violates the law, such as hate speech, defamation, or incitement to violence. 
  • Respecting the intellectual property rights of the data sources that are used to train the model and provide summaries of the copyrighted data. 

 


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Limited risk 

AI systems that pose some risks to the rights or interests of users or other affected persons, such as those that use remote biometric identification (such as facial recognition) in publicly accessible spaces. These AI systems are subject to specific transparency requirements, such as informing users that they are interacting with an AI system and providing information about its purpose, capabilities, and limitations. Examples of these are systems that generate images or audio. 

 

What does the AI Act mean for professionals? 

The AI Act will have significant implications for professionals who use AI in their work, especially those who are involved in high-risk AI systems. They will need to comply with the obligations and requirements set out in the AI Act, such as ensuring data quality, transparency, human oversight, accuracy, robustness, and security of their AI systems. 

Conversely, it will create new opportunities and benefits for professionals who use AI in their work. By setting clear and harmonised rules for the use of AI in the EU, the AI Act will create a level playing field and a single market for AI, facilitating cross-border trade and innovation. It will also enhance trust and confidence in AI, both among users and consumers, and among public authorities and regulators. 

The AI Act is currently a proposal, and it will need to be adopted by the European Parliament and the Council of the EU before it becomes law. The AI Act is expected to enter into force in 2024, after a two-year transition period. 

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the AI Act would help the development of technology that does not threaten people’s safety and rights. In a social media post, she said it was a “unique legal framework for the development of AI you can trust”. 

Thomson Reuters has a long history of innovation, starting in the 1800s, when it used technology to collect and organise information for its customers. Over time, it has incorporated artificial intelligence to help customers find the information they need, and now uses AI to understand customers and provide timely information. 

 

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