Coronavirus may delay EU AI roadmap

Commission's efforts to create new AI rules may be hampered by pandemic's impact

By Shannon Moyer | 23 April 2020

The European Commission’s ruleset on artificial intelligence (AI) may be delayed until well after the end of the year due to the pandemic. Regulations were expected to be proposed by the European Commission (EC) by the end of 2020, but coronavirus may delay these regulations.

With proposals initially expected by the end of 2020 the EC said earlier this year that it would draft new rules regarding ‘high-risk’ technology, alongside updating the EU’s 2018 AI strategy.

The comment period for the plan is due to close in a few weeks but it is unclear whether the rules will be pushed back due to coronavirus.

“The Commission remains strongly committed to deliver on its priorities set at the start of the mandate,” an EC spokesperson said via email. “At the same time, the coordinated response to the unprecedented coronavirus crisis, testing our societies to the core, will impact the roll-out of our 2020 Work Program.”

The EC’s latest AI whitepaper on the matter focuses on transparency, data protection and governance, upholding human rights and establishing technical safety within the sector.

Reports suggest movements made by the EC will be felt globally, given the Commission’s international impact and previous technological leadership.

“What we have is a situation where either Europe leads and the world follows – a recent successful example being GDPR, which did get some global traction as a result of European leadership on this –or we put ourselves at a competitive disadvantage,” said Shamus Rae, CEO of Engine B, via email.

However, Rae said that he does not expect any potential regulation delays to have a major impact on the sector.

“What the coronavirus situation has done is demonstrate that digitisation is needed now more than ever and the move to data-driven services and operating models should be accelerated,” Rae continued. “The regulations may go some way to supporting that.”

John Buyers, partner at law firm Osborne Clarke, said via email that coronavirus-related delays would have an impact on the sector, but that it is more important to allow legislators, businesses and stakeholders to focus on the pandemic without distraction.

“Delaying the Commission’s planned legislative programme will be a frustration for those attuned to the finer points of the initiative but the delay is not particularly contentious — whilst this is a core EU strategic priority under normal circumstances, it needs to be properly thought through, properly consulted on and properly debated,” Buyers said.

Currently, the EC has extended its deadline for whitepaper comments by two weeks to June 14, and has not announced when it expects to see the regulations finalised.

“That said, where existing legislation needs updating to reflect emerging technology (such as AI), the delay will extend the misalignment between the law and problems with sub-optimal AI tools and solutions,” Buyers said.

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