EU thrashing out landmark AI rules in marathon overnight talks By Reuters

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: European flags fly outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium September 20, 2023. REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo

By Foo Yun Chee, Supantha Mukherjee and Martin Coulter

BRUSSELS (Reuters) -EU lawmakers and governments were still wrangling on Thursday over several key issues on landmark rules governing artificial intelligence, two sources familiar with the matter said, as talks extended through the night into a second day.

The two sides agreed to a provisional deal on how to regulate fast-growing generative AI systems such as ChatGPT in the early hours of Thursday, overcoming one of the biggest stumbling blocks to a final agreement, a source told Reuters.

The other one, the use of AI in biometric surveillance, and source code access were yet to be debated after 20 hours of talks, two sources familiar with the matter said. They declined to be identified because the talks are confidential.

The Council of the European Union on Thursday postponed a press conference scheduled for 0700 GMT until further notice as negotiations continue. The discussion between EU governments and lawmakers started at 1400 GMT on Wednesday.

Amid tense debates, and frustration over a broken drinks machine, one of the sources said delegates ran out of food and coffee at about 0200 GMT.

“New day, same trilogue!”, EU industry chief Thierry Breton said in a post on social media platform X, referring to the process of negotiations between Parliament, the EU Commission and the Council.

In a photo with the post, EU lawmakers Dragos Tudorache and Brando Benefei – also lead AI negotiators for Parliament – are seen huddling in intense discussion with fellow MEP Kim van Sparrentak, who has also worked closely on the AI draft rules.

EU countries and lawmakers have been trying to finalise details of the draft rules proposed by the European Commission two years ago but have struggled to keep up with the rapidly evolving technology. That made a consensus hard to achieve.

Much is riding on the new law for the bloc.

It could become the blueprint for other governments as countries seek to craft rules for their own AI industry, providing an alternative to the U.S.’ light-touch approach and China’s interim rules.

EU countries and lawmakers are racing to get a final deal ready for a vote in spring, ahead of Parliamentary elections in June when the legislative process will grind to a halt.

Failure to do so could lead to the law being delayed and the 27-member bloc losing its first-mover advantage in regulating the technology.

Even so, it could be close to two years before any legislation comes into effect.

YEARS IN THE MAKING

The first broad framework of the law was proposed in early 2021, almost two years before the launch of Microsoft-backed OpenAI’s ChatGPT transformed the potential uses of the technology.

OpenAI’s founder Sam Altman and computer scientists have also raised the alarm about the danger of creating powerful, high intelligent machines which could threaten humanity.

Agreeing provisional terms on foundation models – the generative AI such as OpenAI which trains on large sets of data to perform various tasks – would be a big step.

The details of what was agreed were not clear. A fourth source said there were still aspects to be thrashed out.

But a late proposal by France, Germany and Italy that makers of generative AI models should self-regulate had added a point of discord. Such a move however would benefit France-based AI company Mistral and Germany’s Aleph Alpha.

On biometric surveillance, EU lawmakers want to ban the use of AI, but governments have pushed for an exception for national security, defence and military purposes.

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