UPDATED 15:18 EDT / MAY 25 2023


Sam Altman says OpenAI could leave EU over proposed AI law

OpenAI LP Chief Executive Sam Altman says a proposed artificial intelligence law in the European Union could lead the startup to shutter its regional operations.

The Financial Times reported Altman’s remarks today. The executive detailed OpenAI’s position during a Wednesday visit to London, where he traveled as part of a world tour focused partly on AI regulation. Altman reportedly expects to visit 17 cities during the trip.

In 2021, the EU proposed a law called the AI Act to regulate the use of AI and address the risks associated with the technology. This month, officials unveiled an updated version of the legislation that includes additional regulatory requirements. Some of those requirements apply to companies such as OpenAI that are developing foundational AI models. 

“The details really matter,” Altman told reporters in London this week. “We will try to comply, but if we can’t comply we will cease operating.”

In its current form, the EU’s AI Act would require developers of foundation AI models to identify potential risks associated with their products as well as address them. Advanced models would have to meet a set of “design, information and environmental” requirements. Furthermore, companies to which the rules apply would have to register their work in an EU database.

Some of the newly added sections in the AI Act focus on copyright. Under the proposed legislation, companies such OpenAI would have to disclose if their models are trained on copyrighted data. Other rules in the legislation would require companies to mark AI-generated content as such and prevent the generation of illegal content.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, and member states will have to negotiate a final version of the legislation before it’s implemented. The law is expected to go into force in 2025. However, OpenAI’s ChatGPT service has already come under regulatory scrutiny in the bloc.

In late March, Italy’s privacy regulator ordered OpenAI to stop processing local users’ data temporarily. The move was driven by concerns that OpenAI may have failed to comply with local data protection requirements. Following the development, the startup blocked access to ChatGPT in Italy for a few weeks.

OpenAI restored access in late April after taking a series of steps to address the privacy regulator’s concerns. As part of the initiative, the startup added a form that allows users to request the removal of their personal information.

Shortly after Italy’s privacy regulator ordered OpenAI to stop processing locals’ data, Germany’s commissioner for data protection stated that “in principle, such action is also possible in Germany.” Moreover, officials in France and Ireland have reportedly held discussions with Italy’s privacy regulator about its decision.

The EU’s push to regulate foundation models has drawn the attention of not only OpenAI but also Google LLC. On Wednesday, the day Altman raised the prospect of OpenAI leaving the bloc, Google Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai reportedly met with EU officials to discuss AI policy. Pichai is said to have emphasized the need for regulation “that did not stifle innovation.”

Google operates a chatbot service called Bard that competes with OpenAI’s ChatGPT. Moreover, it offers foundation models through commercial application programming interfaces. OpenAI has likewise made GPT-4 and several of its other models available via paid APIs. 

Image: OpenAI

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