Competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager aims to create a ‘transatlantic space for trustworthy AI’, giving companies a single set of rules to follow. But some fear the EU and the US are still too far apart in their approach to see eye-to-eye on the technology
Brussels and Washington can create a common space for trustworthy AI so that companies can comply with both EU and US artificial intelligence guidelines by applying a single set of rules, the EU’s competition commissioner has said.
Margrethe Vestager’s remarks, made in advance of the third EU-US Trade and Technology Council (TTC) meeting, which will take place on December 5, go further than ever before in aiming to align rules over the technology.
Speaking in Brussels on 21 November, she said that progress made by the EU and US should “pave the way for a transatlantic sort of space for trustworthy AI.”
If the US and EU can agree on a common rulebook for AI it would become the de facto global standard, given the weight of the two economies.
But Brussels and Washington have taken very different approaches so far. The institutions of the EU are currently formulating the AI Act, binding legislation that would outlaw certain uses of AI, such as realtime facial recognition in public spaces.
Meanwhile the US, which along with China boasts the tech giants capable of developing leading edge AI systems, has instructed the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to draw up voluntary guidelines to direct industry in the development of AI products.
In October the White House launched another plank to the US’s AI strategy: an AI Bill of Rights, setting out non-binding principles, to protect the public from unsafe and ineffective systems, algorithmic discrimination, privacy breaches, and unexplained decisions. They also guarantee an opt out so users can talk to a human instead.
Vestager thinks it will be possible to align the EU’s AI Act and the US’s AI Bill of Rights.
“When you look at legislation […] made in each jurisdiction, you will see that there is quite a lot of scope for having common guidelines, a common view as to how to make this work in the real world,” she said. “Take our AI Act, which is in the process, and the AI Bill of Rights of the US, I think here you'd find very aligned approaches in the way that we're thinking about this.”
Under the auspices of the TTC, “We are trying to achieve that one can comply on both sides [of the Atlantic] at the same time, by applying one single set of tools, for ease of knowing that you actually do comply,” Vestager said. This would enable more transatlantic trade and investment, by creating a large AI market.
Rules versus principles
But there is scepticism that the transatlantic gulf over AI can be bridged, at least any time soon.
“We don't see a lot of overlap between the AI Act in the EU and the AI Bill of Rights of the US. The AI Act is a comprehensive legislation, the Bill of Rights is a set of principles,” said Risto Uuk, a policy researcher at the Future of Life Institute.
However, there is more potential for alignment between the EU’s AI Act and the guidelines developed by NIST, Uuk said. Earlier this year, the institute mapped out commonalities between them.
“I do believe that a common approach is possible, but it will [take] a few years to achieve,” said Andrea Renda, a senior research fellow at the Centre for European Policy studies think tank and one of the organisers of the event at which Vestager spoke.
The US guidelines from NIST are still “rather generic”, and the EU’s AI Act is “far from finalised”, Renda said. The Organisation for Cooperation and Development might be able to step in to mediate between US and EU rules, he added.
Inflation Reduction Act
Despite this optimism over common AI rules, disagreements over the US Inflation Reduction Act are likely to cloud talks in December. The EU is concerned that the act, with $500 billion funding for everything from electric cars to pharmaceuticals, will disadvantage EU firms by subsidising US rivals and that EU companies will be lured by higher subsidies to move operations to the US.
“What we are asking [for] is fairness, nothing more,” said trade commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis. “We would want and expect European companies and exports to be treated in the same way in the US as American companies and exports.”
The dispute has focused chiefly on European unhappiness over subsidies for US-made electric cars and the supporting supply chains. But the act also gives potentially unfair subsidies to other sectors too, said Dombrovskis, including renewables and hydrogen.
A task force is trying to work through the transatlantic disagreements, he said, and it will take stock at the TTC meeting in December.