In a significant move towards regulating artificial intelligence (AI) technologies, the European Parliament has approved the Artificial Intelligence Act.

This legislation, aimed at ensuring safety, compliance with fundamental rights, and fostering innovation, marks a pivotal step in the European Union’s approach to AI governance.

Endorsed by MEPs with an overwhelming majority of 523 votes in favour, 46 against, and 49 abstentions, the Artificial Intelligence Act prioritises the protection of fundamental rights, democracy, the rule of law, and environmental sustainability. By addressing the potential risks and impacts associated with AI technologies, the regulation aims to establish Europe as a global leader in the field while safeguarding citizens’ rights.

Banning High-Risk AI Applications

One of the key provisions of the Artificial Intelligence Act is the prohibition of certain AI applications deemed detrimental to citizens’ rights. These include biometric categorisation systems based on sensitive characteristics, untargeted scraping of facial images for facial recognition databases, emotion recognition in workplaces and schools, social scoring, predictive policing based solely on profiling, and AI that manipulates human behaviour or exploits vulnerabilities.

The legislation imposes clear obligations on high-risk AI systems, such as those in critical infrastructure, education, employment, healthcare, and law enforcement. These obligations include risk assessment and mitigation, transparency, accuracy, human oversight, and citizens’ rights to submit complaints and receive explanations regarding decisions made by high-risk AI systems.

Supporting Innovation and SMEs

To foster innovation and support small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), regulatory sandboxes and real-world testing environments will be established at the national level. These initiatives will provide opportunities for SMEs and startups to develop and train innovative AI solutions before market deployment, thereby promoting competitiveness and technological advancement.

In response to the adoption of the Artificial Intelligence Act, Brando Benifei, co-rapporteur from the Internal Market Committee, emphasised its significance in reducing risks, creating opportunities, combating discrimination, and ensuring transparency. Dragos Tudorache, co-rapporteur from the Civil Liberties Committee, also highlighted the need to align AI development with European values and the importance of implementing the legislation effectively to address societal challenges.

Next Steps

The regulation is currently undergoing a final lawyer-linguist check and is expected to be formally adopted before the end of the legislative period. Once published in the official Journal, the law will enter into force after twenty days and become fully applicable within 24 months, with specific provisions coming into effect at different intervals thereafter.

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