Some other countries are taking a more hands-off approach. For example, the UK, home of Google DeepMind, has said it does not intend to regulate AI in the short term. However, any company outside the EU, the world’s second-largest economy, will still have to comply with the AI Act if it wants to do business in the trading bloc.
Columbia University law professor Anu Bradford has called this the “Brussels effect”—by being the first to regulate, the EU is able to set the de facto global standard, shaping the way the world does business and develops technology. The EU successfully achieved this with its strict data protection regime, the GDPR, which has been copied everywhere from California to India. It hopes to repeat the trick when it comes to AI.
So far, AI regulation in China has been deeply fragmented and piecemeal. Rather than regulating AI as a whole, the country has released individual pieces of legislation whenever a new AI product becomes prominent. That’s why China has one set of rules for algorithmic recommendation services (TikTok-like apps and search engines), another for deepfakes, and yet another for generative AI.
The strength of this approach is it allows Beijing to quickly react to risks emerging from the advances in technology—both for the users and for the government. But the problem is it prevents a more long-term and panoramic perspective from developing.
That could change next year. In June 2023, China’s state council, the top governing body, announced that “an artificial intelligence law” is on its legislative agenda. This law would cover everything—like the AI Act for Europe. Because of its ambitious scope, it’s hard to say how long the legislative process will take. We might see a first draft in 2024, but it might take longer. In the interim, it won’t be surprising if Chinese internet regulators introduce new rules to deal with popular new AI tools or types of content that emerge next year.
So far, very little information about it has been released, but one document could help us predict the new law: scholars from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a state-owned research institute, released an “expert suggestion” version of the Chinese AI law in August. This document proposes a “national AI office” to oversee the development of AI in China, demands a yearly independent “social responsibility report” on foundation models, and sets up a “negative list” of AI areas with higher risks, which companies can’t even research without government approval.
Currently, Chinese AI companies are already subject to plenty of regulations. In fact, any foundation model needs to be registered with the government before it can be released to the Chinese public (as of the end of 2023, 22 companies have registered their AI models).
This means that AI in China is no longer a Wild West environment. But exactly how these regulations will be enforced remains uncertain. In the coming year, generative-AI companies will have to try to figure out the compliance reality, especially around safety reviews and IP infringement.