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Europe doesn't just pass laws on Big Tech algorithms, it sets up cop shops to police them

The union doesn't fsck around

Euro leaders officially opened the European Centre for Algorithmic Transparency (ECAT) on Tuesday, an institution that will support the regulation of social media and search algorithms. 

Under the EU's Digital Services Act (DSA), which came into effect on November 16, platforms with more than 45 million users, dubbed "Very Large Online Platforms" and "Very Large Online Search Engines", must carry annual risk assessments outlining the steps taken to protect users from things like illegal content or disinformation. 

Companies must detail how their algorithms work, and be transparent about how their software allows advertisers to target users or recommend content. The new rules are expected to apply from January 1, 2024. The ECAT will audit software and make sure Big Tech is playing by the rules. 

In an opening speech, Francesca Bria, European Digital Policy Expert and President of the Italian National Innovation Fund, said the development of AI was like opening the mythical Pandora's Box, unleashing "both evil and hope into the world."

"The growing complexity of dynamic scaling and deep learning led to massive investment in computing infrastructures and the race for the control of next generation hardware, which is crucial to train in the largest AI systems as we continue to push the boundaries of AI, it becomes evident that this systems only appear to be aligned with human values," she said.

"The capabilities of AI systems tend to leapfrog as they grow in size and complexity. We should refrain to engage in a race to develop god-like AI or scaling black boxes that prioritise efficiency while neglecting the potential impact of such systems. Regulating and governing AI in a way that tackles present and future arms is therefore crucial."

ECAT will work within the European Commission's Joint Research Centre, recruiting scientists to carry out research to provide independent guidance to tackle various issues from climate change to health. ECAT will focus exclusively on probing the algorithms deployed on online services like social media, search, e-commerce, and more. 

"Scientists and experts working at the ECAT will cooperate with industry representatives, academia, and civil society organisations to improve our understanding of how algorithms work: they will analyse transparency, assess risks, and propose new transparent approaches and best practices," an official blog post said. Officials are now actively recruiting experts interested in research or inspection roles. 

While the ECAT currently focuses on addressing the specific concerns of the DSA, legislators are continuing to debate the AI Act, a more general framework that categorizes applications by varying risk levels. ®

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