Proposed EU rules for AI seek to boost innovation, ethical standards and trust

October 21, 2020

The European Parliament has published recommendations on what AI rules should include with the focus on three areas: ethics, liability and intellectual property rights. The European Commission’s legislative proposal is expected early next year and therefore the Parliament’s recommendations will feed into that. 

Ethics framework for AI

MEPs call for a new legal framework outlining the ethical principles and legal obligations to be followed when developing, deploying and using artificial intelligence, robotics and related technologies, including software, algorithms and data. They say that future laws should follow several guiding principles, including: a human-centric and human-made AI; safety, transparency and accountability; safeguards against bias and discrimination; right to redress; social and environmental responsibility; and respect for privacy and data protection. High-risk AI technologies, such as those with self-learning capacities, should be designed to allow for human oversight at any time. If a functionality is used that would result in a serious breach of ethical principles and could be dangerous, the self-learning capacities should be disabled and full human control should be restored.

Liability for AI causing damage

The European Parliament says that there should be a civil liability framework, with strict liability for those operating high-risk AI which results in damage. It takes the view that a clear legal framework would stimulate innovation by providing businesses with legal certainty. It would also  protect individuals and promote their trust in AI technologies by acting as a deterrent to activities that might be harmful. The rules should apply to physical or virtual AI activity that harms or damages life, health, physical integrity, property, or that causes significant immaterial harm if it results in “verifiable economic loss”. While high-risk AI technologies are still rare, MEPs believe that their operators should hold insurance similar to that used for motor vehicles. The issue of liability for AI has come up in the context of autonomous vehicles and software liability and it will be interesting to see the outcome of this proposal.

Intellectual property rights

MEPs say that EU global leadership in AI requires an effective intellectual property rights system and safeguards for the EU’s patent system to protect innovative developers, while stressing that this should not come at the expense of human creators’ interests, nor the European Union’s ethical principles. MEPs believe it is important to distinguish between AI-assisted human creations and AI-generated creations. They specify that AI should not have legal personality and consequently, ownership of IPRs should only be granted to humans. This is a particularly topical point with the current attempts by Dr Thaler to obtain patent protection for inventions made by an AI machine, he has been refused in the UK and by the EU IPO but has other applications in other jurisdictions. The UK IPO is also considering the issue. In addition, MEPs have considered copyright, data collection, trade secrets, the use of algorithms and deep fakes.