The new bill, called the AI Liability Directive, will add teeth to EU AI law, which is expected to become EU law around the same time. The AI law would require additional checks for “high-risk” uses of AI that have the most potential to harm people, including policing, recruitment or healthcare systems.
The new Liability Bill would give individuals and businesses the right to sue for damages after being harmed by an AI system. The goal is to hold technology developers, producers, and users accountable and ask them to explain how their AI systems were built and trained. Tech companies that fail to follow the rules face EU-wide class action lawsuits.
For example, job seekers who can prove that an AI system for filtering resumes has discriminated against them can ask a court to force the AI company to give them access to information on the system so that they can identify those responsible and find out what went wrong. Armed with this information, they can proceed.
The proposal still has to work its way through the EU legislative process, which will take at least a few years. It will be amended by members of the European Parliament and EU governments and will likely be the subject of intense lobbying by tech companies, who claim that such rules could have a “chilling” effect on the innovation.
In particular, the bill could have a negative impact on software development, says Mathilde Adjutor, European policy manager for the technology lobbying group CCIA, which represents companies such as Google, Amazon and Uber.
Under the new rules, “developers not only risk being held liable for software bugs, but also for the software’s potential impact on the mental health of users,” she says.
Imogen Parker, associate director of policy at the Ada Lovelace Institute, an AI research institute, says the bill will shift power from companies to consumers – a correction she sees as particularly important given the discrimination potential of AI. And the bill will ensure that when an AI system causes damage, there is a common way to seek compensation across the EU, says Thomas Boué, head of EU policy for tech lobby BSA, whose members include Microsoft and IBM.
However, some consumer rights organizations and activists say the proposals do not go far enough and will set the bar too high for consumers who want to complain.