OpenAI CEO’s threat to quit the EU backfires on lawmakers
- OpenAI’s Altman warns the EU against over-regulation
- EU lawmakers dispute Altman’s claim that they could water down the EU AI Act
- The EU law could be the first set of rules globally to govern AI
- Italian regulators accused OpenAI of violating European privacy rules
LONDON/STOCKHOLM, May 25 (Reuters) – For months, Sam Altman, chief executive of Microsoft-backed ( MSFT.O ) OpenAI, has urged lawmakers around the world to draft new rules governing the technology. On Wednesday, he threatened that the ChatGPT producer could leave the EU if the bloc “over-regulates”.
Altman has spent the past week criss-crossing Europe, meeting top politicians in France, Spain, Poland, Germany and the UK to discuss the future of AI and the progress of ChatGPT.
More than six months after OpenAI unveiled its AI-powered chatbot ChatGPT to the world, fears about its potential have sparked excitement and alarm — and brought it into conflict with regulators.
One place Altman didn’t make it this week was Brussels, where EU regulators are working on the long-awaited EU AI Act, which could be the first set of rules globally governing AI.
Altman canceled a planned visit to Brussels, two sources familiar with the matter said. OpenAI did not respond to a request for comment.
“The current draft EU AI law would be over-regulatory, but we’ve heard that it’s going to be withdrawn,” Altman said in London on Wednesday.
EU lawmakers responsible for drafting the AI law contested Altman’s claims. – I don’t see any dilution happening anytime soon, Dragos Tudorache, a Romanian member of the European Parliament who leads the drafting of EU proposals, told Reuters.
“We are nevertheless pleased to invite Mr. Altman to Parliament so that he can voice his concerns and hear the thoughts of European lawmakers on these issues,” he said.
EU industry chief Thierry Breton also criticized the threat, saying the draft rules are not up for negotiation.
On Thursday, OpenAI is expected to discuss in more detail how AI should be regulated, amid Altman’s busy schedule of meetings with world leaders such as British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and French President Emmanuel Macron.
LAWMAKERS WILL NOT BE “BLACKMAILED”
Dutch MEP Kim van Sparrentak, who has also worked on the draft EU law, said she and her colleagues “should not allow ourselves to be blackmailed by American companies”.
“If OpenAI cannot comply with basic data governance, transparency, safety and security requirements, then their systems are not suitable for the European market,” she said.
In February, ChatGPT set a record for the fastest growing user base of any consumer application app in history.
OpenAI first clashed with regulators in March, when Italian data regulator Garante shut down the app domestically, accusing OpenAI of violating European privacy rules. ChatGPT came back online after the company introduced new privacy measures for users.
Meanwhile, EU lawmakers added new proposals to the bloc’s AI law, forcing any company that uses generative tools, such as ChatGPT, to disclose copyrighted material used to train their systems.
EU parliamentarians agreed on the draft law earlier this month. The Member States, the European Commission and the Parliament will elaborate on the final details of the bill.
Through the Council of Europe, individual member states such as France or Poland can also seek changes before the bill is eventually adopted later this year.
PLANS IN “FULL SWING”
While the legislation has been in the works for several years, new provisions specifically targeting generative tools were drafted just weeks before a crunch vote on the proposals.
Reuters previously reported that some lawmakers had initially proposed banning copyrighted material used to train generative AI models, but this was abandoned in favor of stricter transparency requirements.
“These provisions are mainly about transparency, ensuring that the AI and the company that builds it is trustworthy. I don’t see any reason why any company would shy away from transparency,” Tudorache said.
Nils Rauer, a technology partner at law firm Pinsent Masons, said it was “no surprise” that Altman had made his comments as lawmakers worked through their proposals.
“OpenAI is unlikely to turn its back on Europe. The EU is economically too important,” he said. “You cannot single out the single market, with close to 500 million people and an economy of 15 trillion euros ($16.51 trillion).”
Altman was in Munich, Germany, on Thursday, where he said he had met Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
Sergey Lagodinsky, a German MEP who also worked on the legislation, said that while Altman may be trying to push his agenda among individual countries, Brussels’ plans to regulate the technology were “in full swing”.
“There could be some changes, of course,” he said. “But I doubt they will change the overall trajectory.”
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Reporting by Martin Coulter and Supantha Mukherjee; additional reporting by Alexander Huebner in Munich and Andreas Rinke in Berlin; Editing by Susan Fenton
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