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OpenAI CEO rolls back threat to quit Europe over regulation

May 26, 2023

Sam Altman sparked criticism after accusing the European Union of "overregulating" artificial intelligence platforms. Having warned that ChatGPT may pull out of Europe, Altman now says his firm has "no plans to leave."

Sam Altman, OpenAI CEO pictured in at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) on May 24, 2023
OpenAI CEO Sam Altman has been on a tour of Europe this weekImage: Sven Hoppe/dpa/picture alliance

OpenAI — the company behind the popular artificial intelligence (AI) platform ChatGPT — has no plans to leave Europe, CEO Sam Altman said on Friday, reversing a threat made earlier this week.

"We are excited to continue to operate here and of course have no plans to leave," Altman said in a tweet.

The remark is a U-turn from comments made to journalists on Wednesday where he accused the European Union's proposed AI Act of potentially "overregulating" platforms like his.

"The current draft of the EU AI Act would be overregulating, but we have heard it's going to get pulled back," Altman told Reuters. "They are still talking about it."

Altman was cited by the Financial Times as saying that the draft EU rules were causing him "a lot of concern" but that OpenAI would indeed try to comply with them. "But if we can't comply with them, we will cease operations [in Europe]."

During an event at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) on Wednesday, Altman said that he thinks typically, regulators should take a wait-and-see approach, but noted how AI regulation is an area "where we should be proactive."

Everything AI systems can already do

Brussels says AI rules 'cannot be bargained'

Altman's initial threat was met with a strong response from Brussels, with European Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton insisting that Europe's AI rules are not up for negotiation.

Breton said there was no point making speculative threats and claiming Europe was holding up the rollout of generative AI, referring to the type of AI that can create text, images and other content.

"Let's be clear, our rules are put in place for the security and well-being of our citizens and this cannot be bargained," Breton told Reuters.

"Europe has been ahead of the curve designing a solid and balanced regulatory framework for AI which tackles risks related to fundamental rights or safety, but also enables innovation for Europe to become a frontrunner in trustworthy AI," he said.

Microsoft's President Brad Smith said during an event in the United States on Thursday that he was optimistic "reason will prevail" and that the final AI Act would be an acceptable compromise. 

What is ChatGPT and why is it so controversial?

ChatGPT is an AI platform that is able to write emails, essays and software code with minimal human guidance. It can also give detailed answers on a wide range of topics.

Microsoft has invested nearly $10 billion in Open AI, the laboratory behind ChatGPT, while Google and Chinese tech giant Alibaba have rushed out their own versions.

The arrival of such chatbots has surprised many policymakers and business leaders, who hadn't expected AI technology to advance so quickly.

Concerns are now rising that AI may grow too powerful, cause hundreds of millions of job losses and be used for nefarious purposes.

Critics say it will decimate entire industries, lead to a flood of misinformation and copyright infringements, and entrench race, gender and political biases.

AI's supporters claim that the technology will improve lives by doing menial tasks better and revolutionize human interaction with machines.  

When will the European AI Act be passed?

The EU is in the final stages of approval of its regulations to cover generative AI tools, such as OpenAI's Chat GPT.

After being sent back to the drawing board by the arrival of ChatGPT,  EU lawmakers reached common ground on the draft of the act earlier this month.

EU lawmakers and EU national governments are expected to thrash out the details of the rules in the coming months before they become legislation that may become the global standard for the technology.

The final law isn't expected to take effect until 2025.

mm/sri (dpa, Reuters)