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Microsoft strokes UK's ego by pooh-poohing EU approach to AI regulation

Representative even given opportunity to pitch tech to government during science committee hearing

Microsoft chose a UK parliamentary hearing as the venue to slam the EU's efforts to regulate the development and introduction of AI.

Hugh Milward, general manager, corporate, external and legal affairs at Microsoft UK, told the Science and Technology Committee on Wednesday that the EU presented "a model of how not to do" AI regulation.

The EU, the world's richest economic trading bloc, has proposed a risk-based approach to AI regulation, in which it places applications of the technology into three risk categories.

After criticizing the proposals, Milward said: "The UK is probably taking the most progressive steps [in AI regulation] that we've seen anywhere. Not breaking what we've got here that is not broken, I think, would be very sensible. Doubling down on the approach that we're currently taking I do think risks the UK creating a regulatory environment that is business unfriendly.

"Certainly, from the international investment perspective, we're increasingly seeing the UK as a tough regulatory environment. I don't think we want to go down that route when it comes to AI as well."

Just days earlier, Microsoft's Sydney chatbot – based on OpenAI technology – had expressed a desire to steal nuclear codes in response to probing by a New York Times journalist designed to put it out of its comfort zone.

Nonetheless, Milward's rejection of the EU's risk-based approach was described as "perfect" by Stephen Metcalfe, a Conservative Brexiteer MP who seemed to enjoy sticking it to the EU.

The UK has set out a "context-specific" approach to AI regulation which is also "pro-innovation and risk-based" in a policy paper. A white paper setting out proposals for legislation is due next month.

Earlier in the hearing, Conservative MP Aaron Bell – standing in for the committee chairman – seemed to offer Microsoft the opportunity to pitch its AI services to government, rather than probe the topic of AI governance, the stated aim of the inquiry.

"Do you think ChatGPT or other forms of AI could be beneficial to the machinery of government as well as commerce more generally?" he asked the Microsoft representative, who seemed not to believe his luck.

However, fellow committee member Labour's Dawn Butler said: "We can focus on the benefits of AI. But if we don't now focus on the risks and mitigating those risks, further down the line, we are going to find ourselves in a situation that we cannot get out of and cannot explain how we got there in the first place." ®

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