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OpenAI CEO’s threat to quit EU draws lawmaker backlash

FILE PHOTO: French President Emmanuel Macron (L) meets with OpenAI CEO Sam Altman (R) at the Elysee Palace on May 23, 2023 in Paris, France. President Macron meets Altman, the inventor of ChatGP, to discuss artificial intelligence issues. YOAN VALAT/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

LONDON/STOCKHOLM – For months, Sam Altman, CEO of Microsoft-backed OpenAI, has been urging lawmakers around the world to set new rules for the technology. On Wednesday, he threatened the ChatGPT maker to leave the EU if the block was “over-regulated.”

Altman has spent the past week traveling the length and breadth of Europe, meeting with leaders 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 concern – and led to conflicts with regulators.

One place Altman didn’t visit this week was Brussels, where EU regulators are working on the long-awaited EU AI law, which could be the world’s first set of rules regulating 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“The current draft EU AI law would be over-regulatory, but we’ve heard it’s being withdrawn,” Altman said in London on Wednesday.

EU lawmakers responsible for shaping AI law disputed Altman’s claims. “I don’t think there will be any dilution anytime soon,” Dragos Tudorache, a Romanian MEP who is leading the drafting of EU proposals, told Reuters.

“Nevertheless, we are 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 boss Thierry Breton also criticized the threat and said the draft regulations were not intended for negotiations.

On Thursday, OpenAI is expected to discuss in more detail how AI should be regulated, while Altman has a busy schedule of meetings with world leaders such as British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and French President Emmanuel Macron.

Legislators don’t allow themselves to be “blackmailed”

Dutch MEP Kim van Sparrentak, who also helped draft the EU law, said she and her colleagues “should not be blackmailed by American companies”.

“If OpenAI cannot meet the basic requirements for data governance, transparency and security, then their systems are not suitable for the European market,” she said.

In February, ChatGPT set a record for having the fastest growing user base of any consumer application app in history.

OpenAI first clashed with regulators in March when Italy’s data regulator, Garante, shut down the app domestically, accusing OpenAI of violating European privacy rules. ChatGPT went back online after the company rolled out new user privacy measures.

Meanwhile, EU lawmakers added new proposals to the Union’s AI law that would force any company using generative tools like ChatGPT to disclose any copyrighted material used to train their systems.

MEPs agreed on the draft law earlier this month. Member States, the European Commission and Parliament will work out the final details of the draft law.

Through the Council of Europe, individual member states such as France or Poland can also request changes before the bill is passed, possibly later this year.

plans in full swing

While the legislation has been in the works for several years, new regulations specifically targeting generative tools were drafted just weeks ahead of a crucial vote on the proposals.

Reuters previously reported that some lawmakers initially proposed outright banning the use of copyrighted material to train generative AI models, but this was abandoned in favor of stricter transparency requirements.

“These provisions mainly relate to the transparency that ensures that the AI ​​and the company that builds it can be trusted. I see no reason why any company should shy away from transparency,” said Tudorache.

Nils Rauer, a technology partner at law firm Pinsent Masons, said it was “no surprise” that Altman made his comments while lawmakers were working through their proposals.

“OpenAI is unlikely to turn its back on Europe. “The EU is too important economically,” he said. “You can’t create the single market with nearly 500 million people and a €15 trillion ($16.51 trillion) economy.”

Altman was in Munich on Thursday, where he said he had met with Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

Sergey Lagodinsky, a German MEP who also worked on the legislation, said that while Altman is trying to push his agenda through in individual countries, Brussels’ plans to regulate the technology are “in full swing”.

“Of course there may be some changes,” he said. “But I doubt they will change the overall course.”

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