MEPs address AI's ethics, safety and intellectual property

The EU insisist that AI with self-learning capacities should be designed to allow for human oversight

MEPs approved on Thursday proposals to address long-term opportunities and legal challenges posed by AI in the area of ethics, civil liability and intellectual property. On the issues, the Legal Affairs Committee adopted three reports on Thursday, which the Commission is expected to put forward a legislative proposal on the matter in early 2021.

The three reports of the Legal Affairs Committee built on the White Paper on AI, Report on safety and liability framework and Public consultation from this summer.

The first proposal, linked to the increased development and use of AI systems, is the so-called Ethics framework for AI. The legislative initiative by Iban García del Blanco (S&D, ES) urges the EU Commission to present a new legal framework outlining the ethical principles to be used when developing, deploying and using artificial intelligence, robotics and related technologies in the EU, including software, algorithms and data.

On Thrusday, MEPs adopted proposals on several guiding principles on the matter that must be taken into account by future laws including a human-centric, human-made and human-controlled AI; safety, transparency and accountability; safeguards against bias and discrimination; right to redress; social and environmental responsibility, and respect for fundamental rights.

When it comes to AI with machine-learning (self-improving) capacities, it should be designed to allow for human oversight. If a functionality is used that would entail a serious breach of ethical principles and be potentially dangerous for people, the self-learning capacities should be disabled and revert to operating safely.

Another proposal adopted is regarding the liability for AI causing damage. The initiative by Axel Voss (EPP, DE) calls for a future-oriented civil liability framework to be adapted, making those operating high-risk AI strictly liable if there is damage caused. This would encourage innovation by providing businesses with legal certainty, protect citizens better and enhance their trust in AI technologies by deterring risky activities. Strict liability should also apply to AI systems that have repeatedly caused damage.

In this text, MEPs focused on civil liability claims against operators of AI-systems. The liability would cover protection of life, health, physical integrity, property as well as significant immaterial harm if it results in “verifiable substantial economic loss”.

As for intellectual property rights, MEPs underlined that the key issue of protecting intellectual property rights (IPRs) in the context of artificial intelligence has so far not been addressed by the EU Commission and calls for an impact assessment on the matter.

Hence, that EU global leadership in AI requires an effective intellectual property system and safeguards for the EU’s patent system to protect developers. MEPs specify that AI should not have legal personality, thus “inventorship” should be only granted to humans. The text further addressed copyright, protection of trade secrets and the distinction between IPR for the development of AI technologies and IPR potentially granted on creations generated by AI.

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