The EU and U.S. are on Track to Ban AI, Handing the 21st Century to China | Opinion

The European Union has chronically failed to produce any notable tech unicorns—billion dollar startups. Its recent move to regulate (I would say criminalize) AI technology, if implemented, will setback the EU to the dark ages, and hand the future of tech to China. Instead of supporting these moves as it has, the Biden administration must embrace and support a future of growth and advancement—a future that promotes use of AI, for the sake of the economy, society and above all, national security.

The recent EU white paper on AI's regulatory framework was designed to ensure that all use cases of AI can limit any risk, not enforce or support bias, or cause any harm to individuals.

It reads more like an anti-technology diatribe the Unabomber would be proud of. Theoretically, and on paper, the regulations sound reasonable, however practically, they offer a dangerous tradeoff between improved health care, enhanced productivity and global competitiveness, with an illusion of protection of privacy and freedom.

The regulation falls at the first hurdle by creating a broad brush "high risk" category of AI, defined as any scenario with "injury, death or significant material or immaterial damage; that produce effects that cannot reasonably be avoided by individuals or legal entities." That could include credit assessments, asylum applications, surveillance or social security benefits. Again, on surface a noble cause but at its core offering serious execution complications and financial risk.

In the EU, any breach of these regulations will mean a fine of up to €20 million, or 4 percent of the company's annual turnover. In America, adoption of these regulations is only great news for lawyers hungry to benefit from all sorts of lawsuits. This is the best way to scare off investors, who will simply put their money into AI startups based elsewhere—China or Russia.

I believe that most people understand what bureaucrats don't: AI is the single most important innovation of the 21st century, and start-ups need to be given the space to grow, experiment and innovate.

The main question for all of us to consider is: Do we want to live in a police state where how we innovate is decided by governments through regulations? All tech can be harmful: Facebook connects us with friends and family, but it has also polarized our political conversations and divided our societies. Yet we still use it.

There is no such thing as "high risk" or "low risk," "good" or "bad" AI. The same mechanisms behind AI could be used for movie recommendations or disease diagnostics. It is not the program itself that is "good" or "bad," it is always the user.

A car can also be "high risk" if it's driven by a drunk person or a terrorist. But we don't fine the car manufacturer.

I believe freedom is to place people at the center of their own decisions. I believe people with their choices are fully capable of guiding their future. The role of the government should not be to regulate our tomorrow, it should be increasing awareness, transparency and allowing us to make informed choices.

Output of an Artificial Intelligence Google system
Output of an artificial intelligence system from Google Vision, performing facial recognition and emotion analysis on a photograph of a man, with facial features identified and facial bounding boxes present, San Ramon, California, November 22, 2019. Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

I am in full support of the EU's efforts to make AI programs "explainable" or "understandable" to users. This is a good thing for both decision makers, companies and to users. Explainability provides transparency which leads to better decisions. It is different from prescribed "dos" and "don'ts."

China is betting big on AI; they were projected to have invested $70 billion on AI by 2020, which outstrips the U.S. hugely (no exact figures are available). Chinese President Xi Jinping personally sits on the board of China's AI development taskforce. Russian President Vladimir Putin predicted that whichever country leads the way in AI research will come to dominate global affairs. He claimed that, "Artificial intelligence is the future, not only for Russia, but for all humankind."

Supporters of brutal AI regulation in D.C. and Brussels will argue that we need it to protect against a Chinese surveillance state. But perhaps as well as protecting against China's excesses, we should be learning from its ambition. It seems like the West is adopting a defensive approach to growth and competitiveness. That is wrong. The West must follow its tradition of offensive progress and should not place fear of failure above a future of prosperity.

If the member states of the EU—and their allies across the Atlantic—are serious about competing with China and retaining their power status (as well as the quality of life they provide to their citizens) they need to call for a redraft of these regulations, with growth and competition being seen as at least as important as regulation and safety.

Western progress over centuries has been rooted in entrepreneurship: in exchanging what we have with something better, knowing that there is a risk.

Entrepreneurship is about risk-navigation—we need to manage, not punish, those risks. As an investor, I know that many promising start-ups do accidentally make mistakes. Starving them of capital and bankrupting them when they slip up will only harm our own economies.

Let's not cut innovation at its legs and entangle progress with additional crippling regulations. Let's support the start-ups that are busy shaping the future and unleashing new waves of entrepreneurship that will benefit us all. If we can't support them, we should at least get out of their way. Let's bravely embrace the tech that will reshape global geopolitics from an offensive and progressive position of strength.

Sid Mohasseb is adjunct professor in dynamic data-driven strategy at the University of Southern California and is former national strategic innovation leader for strategy at KPMG. He is the author of The Caterpillar's Edge (2017) and You are not Them (2021). He has written for TIME, Newsweek and Foreign Policy.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.