OpenAI Inc. Chief Executive Officer Sam Altman’s European goodwill tour devolved into a war of words with European Union regulators after he said his company could pull out of the bloc over its proposed AI Act.
“The details really matter,” Altman, whose company kicked off the artificial intelligence boom with the release of ChatGPT last year, told reporters in London this week. “We will try to comply, but if we can’t comply we will cease operating.”
His warning comes as EU regulators are considering laws that will hold AI companies accountable for how their systems are used. EU lawmakers voted in committee in favor of additional controls earlier this month, amid fears the new technology could be used to create deepfakes or violate people’s privacy.
Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton responded Thursday on Twitter by accusing Altman of trying to intimidate regulators.
“There is no point in attempting blackmail — claiming that by crafting a clear framework, Europe is holding up the rollout of generative #AI,” Breton wrote. He referenced the EU’s “AI Pact,” a new voluntary framework discussed with Alphabet Inc. CEO Sundar Pichai this week, through which the EU will help companies prepare for the AI Act.
A spokeswoman for OpenAI didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Altman is in the middle of a global tour to promote OpenAI and speak to regulators. He was in Poland earlier in the week, where he said his company was considering opening a research office in Europe, and is also visiting Munich and Paris. Altman did not stop in Brussels.
The EU’s AI Act is on track to be the first comprehensive legislation to address artificial intelligence. While the original proposal focused on regulating its use rather than the technology itself, the European Parliament proposed new rules that specifically target large language models after the explosion in popularity in generative AI.
Altman told a US Senate committee earlier this month that the technology needs some regulatory guardrails. In London, he said regulation should be “somewhere in between” the traditional approach of Europe and the US. “I hope we can find a middle ground,” he said. “You don’t want to allow regulatory capture for companies like us.”
Brad Smith, the vice chair and president of Microsoft Corp, which invested $10 billion in OpenAI, said he’s optimistic that “reason will prevail” in the final version of the AI Act. Asked about Altman’s threat to pull OpenAI products out of Europe, Smith said it’s important for the tech industry to explain how proposed regulation would work in practice.
“The legislative process in every democratic country inevitably has its twist and turns,” Smith said Thursday in Washington after a speech on AI regulation. “There are days when those of us who might know more about a technical field get up and see something that we quite rightly would want to point out is not likely to work the way that people who wrote it actually intended.”
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