The EU AI Act: The world’s first comprehensive legal framework for artificial intelligence

After six months of negotiations, the European Parliament and the Council announced a provisional agreement on the Artificial Intelligence (AI) Act.

On 8 December 2023, the European Parliament and Council announced a provisional agreement on the AI Act, marking a significant milestone in artificial intelligence legislation. This landmark legislation is set to be the world’s first comprehensive legal framework dedicated to artificial intelligence.

The AI Act primarily aims to regulate the deployment and use of AI systems, providing a comprehensive set of obligations for both providers and users of AI. It encompasses a wide range of AI applications (although not military or national security applications), intending to safeguard fundamental rights, democracy, and environmental sustainability from the potential risks posed by high-risk AI, while simultaneously fostering innovation and making Europe a leader in this critical field.

The Act categorizes AI risks into different levels, each with tailored rules.

Systems with unacceptable risks, such as cognitive manipulation, social scoring, and certain remote biometric identification systems, will be banned, with limited exceptions.

High-risk AI systems include those used in critical infrastructure management, biometric identification systems, employment and worker management, law enforcement, and migration control. These systems are subject to stringent requirements due to their significant potential impact on safety and fundamental rights.

Limited-risk AI systems, such as chatbots and AI-generated content, are subjected to minimal transparency obligations. These requirements are designed to ensure that users are informed and aware when interacting with AI, promoting informed decision-making and trust in AI technologies.

Additionally, the Act focuses on supporting AI innovation and investment within the EU. It includes provisions to foster a single market for AI applications and aligns with the EU's coordinated plan on AI to accelerate investment across Europe.

While the EU AI Act has the ambition to be a groundbreaking piece of legislation, it has not been without its critics. ETUI’s AI expert Aida Ponce del Castillo called it a “deregulatory regulation”, whose real goal is in fact to position the EU as a global leader in AI by restricting as little as possible the development of the sector and providing maximum support to local AI companies. This is in line with the questions raised by Corporate Europe Observatory. The NGO had denounced the influence of big tech lobbying, which could affect the Act's effectiveness and lead to a form of deregulation, favouring large AI corporations over public interest.

The agreed text will now have to be formally adopted by both Parliament and Council to become EU law.