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Europe gets a bit more concerned about AI

  • 3 minute read
  • Published by Crispin Moller on 25 Apr 2023
  • Last modified 18 Apr 2023
Written by Scott Bicheno for Telecoms.com

Some members of the European Parliament have written an open letter calling for someone to do something about artificial intelligence.

Within the European Union’s Byzantine bureaucracy, only the European Commission has any real power. But it sustains a constellation of satellite bodies that justify their existence, generous pay and heroic lunches by occasionally making suggestions and then tweeting about them.

The least insignificant of these is the European Parliament, in which MEPs seek to maintain the illusion of strident democratic debate by inventing cliques and cabals with aspirational names. One such is Renew Europe, which describes itself as ‘the pro-European political group in the European Parliament’.

One of the ways Renew Europe seeks legitimacy is by hanging on to the coat-tails of existing public policy concerns and announcing something should be done about them. A week after the CEO of social media app TikTok was put through a struggle session by the US congress, Renew Europe issued a press release headed “TikTok CEO should be held to account in the European Parliament”.

“We have an obligation to ensure the estimated 150 million European users of TikTok are safe, free from manipulation, fuelled addictions and toxic content,” said Dragoş Tudorache, MEP and Vice-Chair of Renew Europe, at the time. “The recent security concerns raised about TikTok, including foreign interference, demand scrutiny. TikTok must be safe for Europeans and we have questions for its CEO that need to be answered.”

After a few weeks to catch his breath, Tudorache was at it again, this time tweeting a public letter headed “A call to action on very powerful AI from the European Parliament”. The letter seems to be concerned that the AI Act legislation currently making its glacial way through the Parliament might already be obsolete when it comes to ‘general purpose AI systems’. This was prompted by last month’s open letter calling for a pause on AI development as well as, presumably, the EDPB’s minimal effort last week.

You can see the tweet below. Among the recommendations are that the EU and US ‘convene a high level global summit on AI’. Global? Later it called on ‘democratic’ countries to have a bit of a think about AI best practice and ‘invite other countries, including non-democratic ones, to exercise restraint and responsibility’.

The letter doesn’t detail who is invited into the ‘democratic’ club but it’s easy to guess. If the letter had been explicitly designed to alienate the rest of the world bar the US, it’s hard to imagine how it could have done a better job. Every political response to last month’s public letter has served to demonstrate what a forlorn hope its call for global coordination on AI development was. But maybe that was the real aim of it.

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