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European Commission pushes back plans for AI legislation to 2021

The European Commission president, Urusula von der Leyen, has revealed that new legislation governing the use of AI will be pushed back until 2021.

In a state of the union address in Brussels on Wednesday, von der Leyen stressed the importance of “clear rules” to protect against algorithmic injustice and “black box” decision-making. But she confirmed that the new legislation would not now be introduced until next year.

“Whether it’s precision farming in agriculture, more accurate medical diagnosis or safe autonomous driving – artificial intelligence will open up new worlds for us. But this world also needs rules,” the commission chief told the European Parliament.

“We want a set of rules that puts people at the centre. Algorithms must not be a black box and there must be clear rules if something goes wrong. The commission will propose a law to this effect next year.”

When von der Leyen was elected commission president last November, she vowed to put tech at the heart of her policymaking and introduce new AI legislation within her first 100 days in office.

[See also: ‘Europe’s Digital Decade’ – how the EU is pitching tech as the driving force behind its recovery]

In February, the commission produced a new digital strategy containing plans to rigorously test machine learning technologies used to make life-changing decisions. It also vowed to create common data spaces for businesses to share industrial data that could be harnessed by researchers and engineers to drive new innovations.

But the proposals, which have been put out for consultation, did not materialise into legislation under the timeframe von der Leyen had promised. Just weeks after the strategy was published, the Financial Times reported that the EU was rewriting the proposals in light of the coronavirus crisis. “The EU is not backtracking yet on its position but it is thinking more actively about the unintended consequences of what they have proposed in the white paper on AI,” a source told the newspaper.

Speaking at the New Statesman’s Global Policy Forum in June, Margrethe Vestager – the European Commission’s digital chief – denied that the crisis had diminished the appetite for new tech legislation. “On the contrary, it’s a matter of urgency to make sure that our digital future is open.”

Von der Leyen announced yesterday that €150bn of the EU’s €750bn recovery fund will be spent on digital projects. The beneficiaries are yet to be determined, but she identified industrial data, AI and infrastructure as three key focus areas.