Ibán García del Blanco (León, 1977) can already say that he left his mark on the history of Europe. The socialist was the only Spanish MEP to have participated in the marathon of negotiations behind closed doors, lasting almost 37 hours, the longest of this type of meeting in the history of the EU, which made it possible in December to adopt the world’s first comprehensive law on artificial intelligence. . A rule which aims above all to guarantee that the founding models of generative artificial intelligence (AI) likely to present a systemic risk do not violate fundamental rights. An effort that was worth it. “It was now or never,” he emphasizes in an interview with EL PAÍS in Brussels, where the final drafting of the law is currently being overseen. It must be ready and translated into the 24 official languages of the EU in the coming weeks so that the European Parliament and the states can ratify it before the dissolution of the hemicycle before the European elections in June.
Ask. Why such a rush to shut down the AI law?
Answer. From the perspective of defending our rights, our principles and our values, it was important that we have the regulations as quickly as possible. There was a moral risk in not having it, we must protect situations which are particularly vulnerable with the use of this type of technology. And we knew that time was running out, that it could only be approved hypothetically during the Belgian presidency (this first half of 2024). Furthermore, the Spanish presidency had been preparing this for a long time, it had a skill accumulated which, in practice, were impossible to reproduce with another negotiator. And there is the international prestige of the EU: if we had made a mistake in this area, we would be ridiculed internationally. In the same way that I believe we slammed the table and said: this is Europe, if we had not applied this standard, after the expectations that we had generated, after many regions of the world are turning to us , among others. in the United States, in terms of how we regulate certain things, we would have been a laughing stock. And we would probably have called into question the internal democratic model of the EU. So we all knew it was now or never.
If we hadn’t followed this rule, we would have been a laughing stock.
Q. There are still those who defend the self-regulation of the sector.
A. We have accumulated experience of what has happened in the technology sector over the last two decades: not setting standards, expecting them to self-regulate is, in a way, a little naive and produces enormous imbalances. We have a lot of evidence and, in fact, we are trying to go back in time, with laws like the digital services law or the digital markets law. In the case of AI, we are faced with a subject that presents an intrinsic risk such as we have not known until now. We needed additional tools.
Q. The EU prides itself on being a pioneer in AI legislation. Aren’t you afraid of making a mistake on something that will also be legislated in the future, on things that don’t even exist yet?
A. It is true that it is the only legal text that affirms the concept in an absolute, general, horizontal and complete perspective, at least it claims to do so. And for someone who, like me, comes from the world of law, in which there is a maximum rule, legal certainty, it is a challenge to think of a regulation which, by nature, must be flexible and adaptable to new realities. , which is, in itself, an anathema. But we must adapt to the circumstances in which we find ourselves. I do not think that AI is the only subject in which we need regulations capable of adapting to new realities or mutations. This is why it was very intelligent to approach regulation from the angle not of the technology itself, but from the angle of its use, because this makes it possible to establish general rules, immutable over time. . Furthermore, the fact that certain values also have importance in the regulation of other countries and, of course, in this second step into which we must now delve, which is the establishment of an international and collective framework , constitutes a great competitive advantage. .
Q. 2024 is a super election year, with almost half of the planet called to the polls. And AI is singled out as one of the elements of risk in the face of disinformation and the manipulation of public opinion. Are we late with this law which will not be fully applied until the end of 2026?
A. Law, by system, normally comes after reality exists. This is not always the case, there are times when it goes forward and, in this sense, creates social and physical realities on its own, as happened in Spain with the law on same-sex marriage, but in general it is always late. In technology that evolves so quickly, it’s almost inevitable that we’ll fall behind trying to fill the gaps that are created along the way. But here, this is not going to happen to us as with the phenomenon of dot com or that of the large content generation platforms, which were practically without any type of control, without any type of demand, paying no euros in taxes and earning enormous sums without having a minimum level of demand. This won’t happen to us again.
Pretending that they self-regulate is a bit naive and produces huge imbalances
Q. Have we learned anything then?
A. I would say yes, I would say that the world is also aware that we need standards. Far from creating imbalances because a certain region chooses not to regulate, I believe that the reality of international politics at the moment indicates that we will very soon have regulations very similar to those in Europe and, above all, a international framework of minimum standards. requirements very similar to those of Europe and the values that we try to protect here.
Q. The New York Times sued OpenAI and Microsoft over copyright issues, one of the keys to European law. Do you feel ratified?
A. In the United States or the United Kingdom, intellectual property law is less protective, leaving more to the discretion of the courts. What we wanted precisely was to give the rights holders, who are essentially those who generate wealth, who are those who generate creation, the possibility of knowing with certainty if their content has been used without authorization and that is what the law provides. In this sense, it is a pioneer and will probably avoid many disputes in the future or greatly facilitate the work of the courts themselves by identifying exactly what content has been infringed.
Q. Pessimists say that with so much regulation, Europe could lose the AI race to the United States or China.
A. If state intervention or regulation had a decisive element in terms of technological development, then in China we would not have artificial intelligence, and it happens that they are investing at the moment and developing models between 15 and 20 times more than what the European company does. Second, we are far behind the United States and China, and other countries, but basically behind the United States and China, without there being any law; That is to say, it does not seem to have been the decisive element in being able to perceive whether there is technological development or not. I believe that it fundamentally depends on our ability to provide the necessary resources to be able to develop our own models, and on our ability as well, and this is also a message addressed to the Member States, to collaborate, to cooperate, because we have not not the necessary muscle, individually, to be able to compete abroad. And in the meantime, we will have a regulatory system that will protect our own principles, our own rights and, at the same time, shape the market more according to our own interests.
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