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EU presses for ethical AI with new guidelines for companies

(Bloomberg) --Europe is pushing for companies and researchers to develop artificial intelligence in an ethical and transparent way, and guidelines published Tuesday seek to help the continent distinguish itself from approaches to the technology in the U.S. or China.

The voluntary principles, drafted by a committee of academics, experts and executives handpicked by the European Commission, the bloc’s executive body, are meant to guide the EU in future policy-making in the area, which could include possible legislation.

The bloc is looking to catch up with the rival nations in AI investment, with a goal for European governments and companies to invest at least 20 billion euros ($22.8 billion) in AI research by 2020, and the same amount per year in the decade after.

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Coupled with the investments, the EU is betting that generating user trust with the ethical guidelines will help European technology become more competitive. It may also help make Europe the global "gold standard" on AI ethics, perhaps even compelling companies based elsewhere that hope to offer AI-enabled products and services in Europe, to comply with European ethics rules. Similarly, the EU has recently established itself has a global leader on data privacy by forcing all companies doing business in Europe or holding the data of European citizens to comply with its General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which went into force in May.

The guidelines lay out technical and non-technical solutions for how to provide transparency and accountability around AI, and encourages companies and researchers to build in privacy protections, non-discrimination and human oversight into their designs at an early stage.

The draft is open as of Tuesday for others to comment on, before the final version is published in March.