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Major technology companies launch AI charm offensive in Europe as regulators close in

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The significant players in the tech industry are emphasizing the advantages of artificial intelligence for society, making a persuasive pitch at one of Europe’s principal trade gatherings as authorities worldwide tighten restrictions on the negative impacts associated with the technology.

During the Viva Tech convention in Paris, Amazon’s Chief Technology Officer Werner Vogels and Google’s Senior Vice President for Technology and Society James Manyika highlighted the substantial potential AI is unleashing for economies and societies.

This comes at a time when the EU’s AI Act, the world’s inaugural major statute governing AI, has received final approval. Global regulators aim to control the adverse effects and misuse of the technology, including issues like misinformation and copyright violations.

Concurrently, European Commissioner Thierry Breton, a key figure in shaping regulations for Big Tech, is scheduled to address the audience later this week.

Vogels, responsible for fostering technological advancements within Amazon, remarked on how AI can address some of the most challenging global issues.

He emphasized that while AI has the capacity to propel businesses of all types towards success, there is also a responsibility to utilize this technology ethically to tackle complex societal challenges.

Vogels stressed the importance of discussing “AI for now” — focusing on how the technology can currently benefit populations worldwide.

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Manyika highlighted instances of AI’s application in Jakarta, Indonesia, where it facilitates connecting small rice farmers with financial services. AI could also optimize the rice supply chain, referred to as the “most crucial food staple,” as half of the global population relies on rice as a primary food source.

Manyika, overseeing advancements at Google and Alphabet regarding responsible innovation, mentioned the potential benefits of AI in healthcare and biotechnology.

He highlighted Google DeepMind’s release of a heightened version of its AlphaFold 3 AI model, capable of comprehending “all molecules of life, not just proteins,” and accessible to researchers.

Manyika also elaborated on the innovations unveiled by the company at the recent Google I/O event in Mountain View, California, such as new “watermarking” technology for detecting AI-generated text, images, and audio.

Manyika disclosed that Google made its watermarking technology open-source to allow any developer to enhance and expand upon it.

“Especially in a year like this, where a billion people globally have engaged, concerns regarding misinformation are pertinent,” Manyika articulated. “These are areas we should prioritize.”

He emphasized that much of the innovation introduced by Google originates from engineers at its French hub, affirming the company’s commitment to sourcing a considerable portion of its innovation from within the European Union.

Manyika also mentioned Google’s Gemma AI, a lightweight open-source model, largely developed at the tech giant’s French hub.

EU regulators establish global regulations

Manyika’s remarks were made a day subsequent to the EU’s ratification of the AI Act, a pioneering legislation that establishes extensive regulations governing artificial intelligence.

The AI Act adopts a risk-based methodology concerning artificial intelligence, varying its treatment based on the perceived threats associated with distinct applications.

“It concerns me when our discourse exclusively focuses on risks,” Manyika noted. “While risks are crucial, we should also contemplate the rationale behind developing this technology.”

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“Developers worldwide ponder how we can enhance society, create businesses, and fashion imaginative and innovative solutions to global problems,” Manyika emphasized.

He emphasized Google’s commitment to balancing innovation with a sense of responsibility, ensuring that their research aims to benefit society without causing harm.

Major U.S. technology companies are striving to gain regulatory favor amid criticism that their substantial operations adversely impact smaller enterprises across various sectors like advertising, retail, and media production.

Especially with the rise of AI, opponents of Big Tech are apprehensive about the increasing risks posed by advanced generative AI systems, including threats to employment, exploitation of copyrighted material for training datasets, and the dissemination of misinformation and harmful content.

Influential connections

Big Tech companies are actively seeking to cultivate favorable relations with French officials.

Recently, at the “Choose France” international investment summit, Microsoft and Amazon made commitments to invest a combined 5.2 billion euros ($5.6 billion) in cloud infrastructure and AI jobs in France.

This week, French President Emmanuel Macron met with Eric Schmidt, former Google CEO, Yann LeCun from Meta, and Google’s Manyika, among other tech leaders, at the Elysee Palace to explore strategies for positioning Paris as a prominent global AI center.

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In a statement released by the Elysee, translated via Google Translate, Macron expressed gratitude to tech leaders for their commitment to France and presence at Viva Tech.

Macron commended the visiting tech talents in the global AI sphere, stating, “I am proud to have such talented individuals here.”

Matt Calkins, CEO of U.S. enterprise software company Appian, expressed concerns about the outsized influence major tech corporations wield over the development and deployment of AI technologies.

“I fear the potential emergence of monopolies around Big Tech and AI,” Calkins remarked. “They can train their models on privately held data, as long as it’s anonymized, which may not provide enough privacy protection when utilizing individual and business data,” he added.

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