Vestager promises Europe will go its own way on artificial intelligence rules

10 Oct 2019 | News

EU’s technology regulator will announce new AI rules in the first 100 days of her mandate. “Some say China has all the data and the US has all the money. But in Europe, we have purpose,” she says

Photo: European Parliament

Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s new souped-up digital and big tech regulator, has promised ethical and human-centred rules on artificial intelligence (AI) in the first 100 days of her mandate.

The EU can’t be a leader in AI “without ethical guidelines,” she told MEPs in her confirmation hearing this week. “The artificial intelligence you want must serve humans. That's a different kind of artificial intelligence” from that seen in the US and China, she said.

The new rules will build on the EU’s reputation as the world’s foremost technology watchdog and regulator of online privacy.

It’s this proactive regulatory stance that distinguishes Europe from other parts of the world, said Vestager. “Some say China has all the data and the US has all the money. But in Europe, we have purpose [and] a lot to build on.”

However, Vestager promised Brussels would be “very careful not to over-regulate” AI by issuing hard rules that could slow innovation. “Obviously we need the feedback from many, many businesses, but I also believe you have to act fast.”

Vestager’s outsized influence on the rules of the game for internet companies has caused rancour in the past with US technology companies, which have long complained that Brussels unfairly focuses on them. “She hates the United States perhaps worse than any person I’ve ever met,” US President Donald Trump complained in June.

In addition to seeking confirmation for a second term as competition commissioner, Vestager was laying out her credentials for a new role as executive vice president responsible for making "Europe fit for the Digital Age."

The expanded remit gives her authority over several commissioners, including research commissioner Mariya Gabriel, and covers everything from start-up growth strategies to rules for digital platforms.  

The commission’s group on AI, a body of 52 experts from across industry, civil society and academia, will guide the scope of regulation. The panel published draft guidelines for “trustworthy AI” in late 2018.

Vestager also addressed concern over conflicts between her role as enforcer of competition laws and her new regulatory role. “Every decision is subject to one or two times legal judgements and we take decisions jointly at college level,” she said.

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