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'Artificial Intelligence may be life or death for you,' says Vestager as MEPs discuss regulation

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'Artificial Intelligence may be life or death for you,' says Vestager as MEPs discuss regulation
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A debate on the future of artificial intelligence (AI) in Europe drew a full house at the European Parliament - with MEPs and Commission leaders keen to find the best way to regulate and make the most of AI, while protecting us against its worst aspects, too.

"We want to discuss this because you have to be cautious. Some artificial intelligence is simple, low risk, no risk, but some artificial intelligence may be life or death for you," says Margrethe Vestager, the Executive Vice-President of the European Commission.

"So if it is very risky we have to be cautious, and all the rest of it, just go, go, go."

And AI is already go, go, going fast, revolutionising areas like voice recognition and translation.

In healthcare it's expected to allow huge leaps in drug development.

But facial recognition is an AI technology that is much less welcome in Europe, and there are calls for it to be heavily restricted or even banned.

The thinking at this event is that AI applications are so powerful they have to ethical, accountable and transparent so we know not only what decisions are taken, but also how:

"If I want to use AI to reduce the consumption of energy of a data center, if it's unexplainable or if it's untransparent, would I care about it if the consumption of energy goes down, and I don't think I'm violating any fundamental rights?" says Andrea Renda, Senior Fellow at the Centre for European Policy Studies.

"If I'm using AI to decide who's going to get the next kidney, if there is only one available, I think that is a bit more controversial, right? And we might want to know how these decisions are taken."

While the US and China may take different paths, the European Parliament argues for a sound set of rules on AI that are simple and enforceable.

"Actually we realised that lack of regulation is not the best thing to do, because then you have to deal with more problems, and it's more difficult to go back. So I think realising that we are more mature in to having smart regulation to enforce and oblige protection of privacy, fundamental human rights, and democracy, " says Eva Kaili, MEP and chair of STOA (Panel for the future of science and technology).

There's consensus that this tech needs to be harnessed for good, and the race is on to do so.

Watch Jeremy Wilks' report from the European Parliament