EU's AI Act faces delay with lawmakers deadlocked after crunch meeting

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The World Artificial Intelligence Cannes Festival
An exhibitor is seen at the World Artificial Intelligence Cannes Festival (WAICF) in Cannes, France, February 10, 2023. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

LONDON, Feb 16 (Reuters) - European Union plans to regulate artificial intelligence (AI) face another stumbling block after lawmakers failed to agree on a basic set of proposals, according to four people familiar with the matter.

The bloc's highly-anticipated AI Act is widely expected to be put to a vote at the European Parliament at the end of March, at which point individual nations will begin negotiating final terms of the legislation.

Following a crunch five-hour meeting in Brussels on Wednesday, however, MEPs had yet to agree to a set of basic principles.

At the heart of their dispute is the need to balance fundamental rights like data privacy and democratic participation with the need to avoid stifling innovation and investment in the sector.

One of the most controversial areas of debate is deciding which AI systems would be categorised as "high risk", such as those affecting a person's safety or infringing fundamental rights. Those deploying such systems would be subject to stringent transparency and scrutiny rules.

“The obvious tension here is between the focus on fundamental rights, on the one hand, and those who say these necessarily conflict with innovation,” said Greens MEP Sergey Lagodinsky.

A source at the European Parliament said negotiations were ongoing with a view to agreeing a strong text.

"The file is long and complex, MEPs are working hard to reach an agreement on their mandate for negotiations. However there is no deadline or calendar on the next steps."

Reporting by Martin Coulter and Supantha Mukherjee. Additional reporting by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Kirsten Donovan

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Supantha leads the European Technology and Telecoms coverage, with a special focus on emerging technologies such as AI and 5G. He has been a journalist for about 18 years. He joined Reuters in 2006 and has covered a variety of beats ranging from financial sector to technology. He is based in Stockholm, Sweden.