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Europe just might make it easier for people to sue for damage caused by AI tech

Imagine the lawyer infomercials – Did a computer hurt you? Call (30) 555 1234...

The European Commission put forward rules on Wednesday aimed at making it easier for Europeans to sue companies for damage caused by AI technologies going awry.

The proposed AI Liability Directive aims to do a few things. One main goal is updating product liability laws so that they effectively cover machine-learning systems and lower the burden-of-proof for a compensation claimant.

This ought to make it easier for people to claim compensation, provided they can prove damage was done and that it's likely a trained model was to blame. This means someone could, for instance, claim compensation if they believe they've been discriminated against by AI-powered recruitment software. The directive opens the door to claims for compensation following privacy blunders and damage caused by poor safety in the context of an AI system gone wrong.

Another main aim is to give people the right to demand from organizations details of their use of artificial intelligence to aid compensation claims. That said, businesses can provide proof that no harm was done by an AI and can argue against giving away sensitive information, such as trade secrets.

The directive is also supposed to give companies a clear understanding and guarantee of what the rules around AI liability are, so that they know what they're getting into when they deploy this technology, what to expect from a complainant, and how to reply. That should give developers and manufacturers some stability, and encourage – rather than discourage – the rollout of machine-learning systems, or so it's hoped.

Finally, we're told, the directive will harmonize rules within Europe on AI liability. And yes, it's kinda loosely defined at the moment as it still has been shored up into actual legislation.

"We want the AI technologies to thrive in the EU," Věra Jourová, vice-president for values and transparency, insisted in a statement.

"For this to happen, people need to trust digital innovations. With today's proposal on AI civil liability we give customers tools for remedies in case of damage caused by AI so that they have the same level of protection as with traditional technologies and we ensure legal certainty for our internal market." 

The AI Liability Directive would apply to all types of damage covered by national laws, and would support claims against any person who "influenced the AI system which caused the damage", according to an FAQ from the commission.

"While considering the huge potential of new technologies, we must always ensure the safety of consumers," said Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders.

"Proper standards of protection for EU citizens are the basis for consumer trust and therefore successful innovation. New technologies like drones or delivery services operated by AI can only work when consumers feel safe and protected. Today, we propose modern liability rules that will do just that. We make our legal framework fit for the realities of the digital transformation."

The AI Liability Directive is just a proposal for now, and has to be debated, edited, and passed by the European Parliament and Council of the European Union before it can become law. ®

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