Spain’s AI Minister Urges Calm as Startups Fret Over ‘Tough’ EU AI Act

Spain's AI Minister Urges Calm as Startups Fret Over 'Tough' EU AI Act

Spain’s AI and digitalization minister, Carme Artigas, has urged European startup founders to be “very calm” about the EU’s impending legislation to regulate artificial intelligence.

The draft AI Act aims to restrict the use of AI systems that are considered to be high-risk, like deepfakes and facial recognition software. The law, which is still under negotiation, outlines different risk categories for AI use and proposes to shut down firms with “unacceptable risk.”

Startup founders worry the new rules could harm smaller companies and stifle investment and innovation in the technology, putting Europe further behind the U.S. and China in the AI race. Cedric O, founder of French generative AI outfit Mistral, said the AI Act will “kill” his firm.

Also read: Europe’s AI Act Stalls Over Disagreements in Regulating ChatGPT-like Models

‘Nobody overreact’ on AI law

However, Spain’s Carme Artigas has sought to calm the nerves of fretful AI developers and company founders, saying “nobody should overreact” against the proposed EU AI Act before it becomes law, according to a report by the startup-focused media outlet Sifted.

She promised a “competitive and innovative” Europe in the post-AI Act era, arguing that the 27-member bloc, with some of the toughest privacy laws, can still protect people’s rights and freedoms. Companies have two years to adapt to the new legislation, she added.

“Founders should be very calm, because the big goal of this legislation is not to stifle innovation but, on the contrary, to introduce many measures to boost it, including sandboxes all over the EU,” Artigas said.

“We haven’t improvised [the rules] six months ago, we’ve been thinking about this for three years. I can assure you that there’s no dimension we have not considered.”

Spain is already piloting the AI Sandbox initiative. Some 52 organizations, including startups, have “expressed interest” in participating in the first iteration of the sandbox, which will last six months, according to the Spanish government AI minister.

Artigas’ comments come as negotiations over the highly anticipated EU AI Act appeared to have stalled in recent weeks as lawmakers disagreed on how to regulate foundation models such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT, Reuters reported.

Spain, which heads the European Union until December, is pushing for strict rules and has proposed a system of tiered regulation, with the most stringent rules applying to models that can potentially harm a large number of people.

‘Positive’ discussions

Artigas told Sifted that the latest trilogue meeting on Oct. 24 involving the EU’s three branches of power—Parliament, Commission, and Council – were “very positive”. She revealed all three bodies reached a consensus on what would be considered a “high-risk” AI system.

The Spanish government wants the final version of the AI Act to pass regulation during its presidency of the EU. Prior to the trilogue meeting last week, it “proposed compromises in a bid to speed up the process.”

“I am convinced that this legislation will become a reference at the international level, as it was the case with the EU’s GDPR,” Artigas said.

“We are trying to come up with a law that doesn’t become obsolete in six months.”

Continuing, Artigas added: “We are trying to add mechanisms allowing the Commission to update key parts, like those on high-risk models, through executive orders, for instance.”

Some issues are still outstanding. Negotiators have yet to discuss the possibility of a two-tiered approach for companies developing foundational models, which places bigger demands and restrictions on entities building more advanced AI systems.

European Parliament members and co-rapporteurs of the EU AI Act, Dragos Tudorache and Brando Benifei, told Reuters last week that they were confident an agreement could be reached at a fifth trilogue scheduled for early December.

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