How Malta’s AI strategy is influencing EU legislation

What is intelligence and how can we use it to better ourselves? This question has been asked a myriad time by people all over the world throughout the course of history. Literature and pop culture are filled with stories of sentient artificial intelligence and its interactions with humans. From Terminators to self-driving talking vehicles, the future was always filled with Artificial Intelligence that was about to transform the world in so many impactful ways.

However, the artificial intelligence that we are surrounded with today is often not as glamourous as imagined and much more mundane in nature. In fact, Artificial Intelligence is becoming much more pervasive, and new applications to serve us in our everyday life are popping up constantly. This ubiquity of AI brings about numerous challenges especially for policy makers. As with other disruptive technologies, the question in Brussels is a simple one – how do you regulate such an area to ensure that the European Union keeps its seat at the leaders table?

The Artificial Intelligence Act

Last month, The European Commission issued its legislative proposal on Artificial Intelligence. The plan according to the Commission is to try and find the right balance between the rights of the users and individuals, and Europe’s place as a leading digital continent. Coupled with the green transformation, the European digital decade and upcoming charter of digital rights, the aim of the Commission is to transform the European continent into a digital powerhouse.

All of this comes under the context of the EU’s newly found importance to the concept of strategic autonomy. This is especially important in the digital sphere where the EU (the world’s largest consumer market), is finding itself increasingly left behind by the likes of the US and China. The solution that the Commission has come up with seems to echo perhaps the bloc’s biggest digital success – the GDPR.

Just like the GDPR, the Artificial Intelligence Act (AIA) seeks to set out the global standards for AI to work within a global context. AI systems originating outside of Europe will have to follow the same rules and regulations if they want to be given access to the block. By leveraging the EU’s market power into legislation, the EU hopes to become the global standard-setter for AI systems in Europe.

How will this be done?

The AIA proposes to classify AI systems according to their risk factor.  AI systems that offer minimal risk such as spam filters will be free of any legislation and will be free to use without any impediment. Items such as Chat bots on the other hand, will be labelled as limited risk and will carry the obligation to notify the user that they are interacting with an AI system.

High risk AI will be subject to stricter obligations and need a CE Certification before being put on the market. Such systems will be required to provide clear human oversight, traceability of results, detailed documentation, high quality of datasets and clear user information to ensure user safety. This categorisation will mainly apply to AI systems working in the areas of critical infrastructure, education, migration, law enforcement, justice and democratic processes, safety of products and essential public and private services.

Finally, AI systems that are a threat to livelihoods, safety and rights will be banned outright. Remote biometric identification systems are considered high risk and will be subject to strict requirements.

Where do we come in?

The Commission also proposed the creation of a European Artificial Intelligence Board which would facilitate cooperation between all national authorities and will make sure standardisation of the AI happens as uniformly as possible throughout the Union.

If all this sounds familiar, you should not be surprised. The certification system proposed by the Commission is in fact already present in Malta. The Malta AI strategy published in 2019, enabled the creation of a national AI certification scheme that would certify the use of AI systems under the auspices of the Malta Digital Innovation Authority.

By taking the Maltese legislation as a model for the European legislation, the European Commission has acknowledged the soundness of Malta’s AI vision and once again recognised Malta’s leading role in a digital Europe. 

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