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New European Commission president pledges GDPR-style AI legislation

The European Commission’s incoming president has promised to introduce new legislation governing AI amid fears about Europe’s increasing dependence on US tech.

Ursula von der Leyen set out plans for an ambitious policy slate during a speech on Wednesday at the European Parliament after her appointment was approved by MEPs.

The commission chief said she was in favour of a AI-focused legislation similar to the General Data Protection Regulation that came into effect last year. “It is not about damming up the flow of data,” she told MEPs. “It is about making rules that define how to handle data responsibly. For us the protection of a person’s digital identity is the overriding priority.”

On the subject of technological sovereignty, von der Leyen added: “We must have mastery and ownership of key technologies in Europe. These include quantum computing, artificial intelligence, blockchain, and critical chip technologies.

“To do this, to close the gaps that exist now, we must act together. Let us pool our resources, our money, our research capacity, our knowledge. And let us put this into practice.”

The Commission is likely to draw on the work of its high-level expert group on AI, which outlined a series of principles earlier this year aimed at ensuring companies deploy artificial intelligence in a way that is fair, safe and accountable. The rules, developed by a committee of academics and industry representatives, form part of the EU’s plan to increase public and private investment in AI to €20bn a year.

The new legislation is likely to be overseen by Margrethe Vestager, the competition commissioner who has waged war on US tech giants and is gaining new powers under von der Leyen’s administration. It was announced in September that Vestager would become the EU’s first executive vice-president for digital policy, also managing competition regulation.

In her new dual role, Vestager will be tasked with overseeing digital policy, improving cyber security, managing data laws, regulating competition, capitalising on the rise of artificial intelligence and protecting the bloc’s technological sovereignty.

Von der Leyen’s new cabinet will assume control of the Commission on 1 December.

The EU has published a series of guidelines to promote ethical AI