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Europe sets benchmark for rest of the world with landmark AI laws

Coursera Learner working on a presentation with Coursera logo and

Europe’s new regulations on artificial intelligence are poised to set a precedent for the rest of the world. After EU countries approved a political agreement made in December, the landmark rules will come into effect next month. This legislation, known as the European Union’s AI Act, surpasses the United States’ more lenient approach to voluntary compliance and contrasts with China’s focus on maintaining social control. Following approval by EU lawmakers two months ago, the AI Act, initially drafted by the European Commission in 2021, underwent significant modifications. Global concerns about AI’s role in spreading misinformation and handling copyrighted material have heightened, particularly with the rise of generative AI systems like Microsoft-backed OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Google’s chatbot Gemini. According to Belgian digitization minister Mathieu Michel, this groundbreaking law addresses a global technological challenge while also presenting opportunities for societies and economies. The AI Act emphasizes the importance of trust, transparency, and accountability in managing new technologies, with provisions for both strict transparency requirements for high-risk AI systems and lighter regulations for general-purpose AI models. It restricts governments’ use of real-time biometric surveillance in public spaces to specific cases, such as certain crimes, terrorist attack prevention, and searches for individuals suspected of serious crimes. The legislation’s impact is expected to extend beyond the EU, as companies outside the bloc that utilize EU customer data in their AI platforms will need to comply. The AI Act could serve as a model for other countries and regions, akin to how the GDPR influenced privacy regulations globally. While the new regulations will officially apply in 2026, certain bans will take effect six months after the legislation is enacted, including prohibitions on AI use in social scoring, predictive policing, and untargeted scraping of facial images from the internet or CCTV footage. Obligations for general-purpose AI models will commence after 12 months, while rules for AI systems embedded in regulated products will apply after 36 months. Violations of the AI Act could result in fines ranging from 7.5 million euros ($8.2 million) or 1.5% of turnover to 35 million euros or 7% of global turnover, depending on the nature of the violation.

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