EU Commission proposes regulation on AI

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is being adopted by the financial industry at an increasing pace these years. Some estimates the AI market growing at 33% for the next six years and in a McKinsey study from 2020, 50% of their respondents reporting that their companies had adopted AI in at least one business function.[1] The potential impact that AI will have on the European economy is significant, both in terms of societal benefits, economic growth and enhance EU innovation and global competitiveness. At the same time, it is commonly acknowledged that the specific characteristics of certain AI systems could raise concerns especially with regard to safety, security, transparency and protection of fundamental rights. A process has therefore been started in the EU on how to address those concerns.

The European Commission published in February 2020 a White Paper on Artificial Intelligence and proposed to set up a European regulatory framework for trustworthy AI. This framework would fall within the realm of the Commission’s workplan’s second priority, ‘A Europe Fit for the Digital Age’ and against this background, the Commission unveiled a new EU regulatory framework on AI in April 2021.[2] The proposal is to enshrine in EU law a technology-neutral definition of AI systems, as well as to adopt different sets of rules tailored on a risk-based approach with four levels of risks.

  • Unacceptable risk AI – Harmful uses of AI that contravene EU values (such as social scoring by governments) will be banned because of the unacceptable risk they create;
  • High-risk AI – A number of AI systems (listed in an Annex) that are creating adverse impact on people’s safety or their fundamental rights are considered to be high-risk. In order to ensure trust and consistent high level of protection of safety and fundamental rights, a range of mandatory requirements (including a conformity assessment) would apply to all high-risks systems;
  • Limited risk AI – Some AI systems will be subject to a limited set of obligations (e.g. transparency);
  • Minimal risk AI – All other AI systems can be developed and used in the EU without additional legal obligations than existing legislation.

For trade unions, the way that AI is developed and implemented is of great importance. We have all heard by now the worst-case scenarios, where workers are monitored and measured constantly by AI (Looking at your dear Amazon), but those are only the most egregious examples that come to light. The potential for a new era of mass surveillance and performance monitoring is a real possibility and one that unions must have a say in. This is why UNI Global Union has developed the 10 principles of Ethical AI[3] and why the ETUC has been engaging with this topic since the Commission’s White Paper on AI came out, with their latest take on the AI Regulation proposal asking serious questions about the proposed risk-based model.[4]  

[1] https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/mckinsey-analytics/our-insights/global-survey-the-state-of-ai-in-2020

[2] https://digital-strategy.ec.europa.eu/en/library/proposal-regulation-laying-down-harmonised-rules-artificial-intelligence

[3] http://www.thefutureworldofwork.org/opinions/10-principles-for-ethical-ai/

[4] https://www.etuc.org/en/document/commissions-proposal-regulation-artificial-intelligence-fails-address-workplace-dimension