Today's Editorial

Today's Editorial - 16 March 2024

A penal code for AI

Relevance: GS Paper II & III

Why in News?

Recently, the European Parliament passed into law the first comprehensive regulatory regime for artificial intelligence, laying down “harmonised rules” called the Artificial Intelligence Act (AI Act, 2024).

Scope and Aim:

  • The AI Act 2024 is passed to improve the internal market's functioning by laying down a uniform legal framework, particularly for the development, the placing on the market, the putting into service, and the use of artificial intelligence systems.
  • It also seeks to ensure that the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, 2000, and other European laws govern the provision and use of AI within the EU.
  • Article 2 of the AI Act 2024 states that it will apply to AI providers for services in the European Union, irrespective of whether the providers are in the EU or a third country.

Definition of AI:

  • Article 3(1) defines an AI system as a machine-based system designed to operate with varying levels of autonomy that may exhibit adaptiveness after deployment and that, for explicit or implicit objectives, infers, from the input it receives, how to generate outputs such as predictions, content, recommendations, or decisions that can influence physical or virtual environments”.

Prohibited AI practices:

  • Article 5 prohibits certain AI practices, including placing in the market the use of an AI system that deploys subliminal techniques beyond a person’s consciousness or purposefully manipulative or deceptive techniques with the objectives or the effect of materially distorting the behaviour of a person or a group of persons by appreciably impairing their ability to make an informed decision, thereby causing a person to take a decision that person would not have otherwise taken in a manner that causes a person or persons significant harm.
  • The AI Act 2024 explicitly bans “harmful AI practices” that are considered to be a “clear threat to people”. This includes -
    • First, AI systems that deploy harmful manipulative subliminal techniques.
    • Second, AI systems that exploit vulnerable groups with disabilities.
    • Third, AI systems by public authorities for their “social scoring purposes”.
    • Finally, “real-time remote biometric identification systems are available in publicly accessible spaces for law enforcement purposes.”

Classification of AI by risk levels:

  • The AI Act 2024 also seeks to regulate “high-risk AI systems” that create an “adverse impact on people’s safety or their fundamental rights.” The law has two kinds of high-risk AI systems.
    • First, those used as a safety component of a product or falling under EU health legislation.
    • Second, systems in eight specific areas, including law enforcement, which will be updated through necessary delegated acts.
  • Such high-risk AI systems would have to comply with requirements including risk management, data training, transparency, and human oversight that must be assessed “before” being placed on the market or put into service.

Transparency obligations:

  • AI systems presenting “limited risk”, such as systems that interact with humans like chatbots, emotion recognition systems, biometric categorisation systems and AI systems that manipulate image, audio or video (deep fakes), would be subject to a “limited set of transparency obligations”.
    • All other AI systems presenting low or minimal risks can be developed and used in the EU without conforming to any additional legal obligations.

Enforcement and oversight:

  • The new law envisages that a European Artificial Intelligence Board, comprising representatives from member states and the Commission, will be constituted.
    • Within each nation-state, a national supervisory authority will be tasked with monitoring the application and implementation of the new law.
  • Depending on the severity of the infringement, fines will be 30 million euros or 6% of the total worldwide annual turnover.

Phased implementation:

  • The law will come into force in phases varying from six to 36 months.
    • For instance, obligations for high-risk AI will take effect around 36 months after the law comes into force. However, “prohibited practices” will become punishable within six months.

Significance of Artificial Intelligence Act (AI Act, 2024):

  • It is the first set of comprehensive regulations to govern AI. It is also the first regulatory regime that recognises and appreciates different levels of AI and their varied kinds of utility and potential harms.
  • The intention is to regulate AI in the 449 million-strong European Union (EU), which will have a global impact and shape how the law will engage with AI.
  • It will also influence the responsible growth and development of AI by placing the onus of potential harm on the providers of AI services.
  • It categorises AI into its potential for harm based on the programme's level of intelligence.
    • This is an extraordinary classification of harm — changing a person’s consciousness through manipulation or deception, eventually resulting in harm being caused to others.
    • Given fake news, targeted algorithms, and the power of social media, this truly is an important definition to address the crime of our times—altering human beings' consciousness and getting them to act in ways they would not have otherwise.
  • The new law will not come into force immediately, giving AI developers and providers time to familiarise themselves with the regulations.
  • The law applies to AI providers for services in the European Union, whether in the EU or a third country. This approach will ensure global compliance with ethical and safety standards in AI development and deployment.
  • Given the global revenue of many large tech firms, including those developing and using AI, fines collected at 6% of worldwide annual turnover revenue will translate into massive revenues for authorities.


The approval of the Artificial Intelligence Act (AI Act, 2024) by the European Parliament is a major step towards regulating AI. This legislation addresses the commercial potential of AI while also aiming to mitigate potential risks and harms that it may pose to individuals and society. The implementation and enforcement of this legislation will likely have a significant impact on the development and use of AI both within the EU and globally.