EU regulation may lock region in AI dark ages

Strides in artificial intelligence are being rolled out in the US but not Europe due to tech giants’ struggle with laws and policies

Tim Cook, chief executive of Apple: While customers in the US and further afield will get new AI features as they are rolled out, Apple has decided to pause their introduction in Europe. Photograph: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

The US innovates, China imitates and the EU regulates, or so goes the line in the tech industry.

Many of the dire predictions about Europe’s future and the impact of regulation on innovation have come from within the industry, which is to say they are probably less impartial than they might like to think. But they could have a point.

The EU has made its priority the regulation of big tech – and with it new developments such as generative AI. That puts new obligations on companies in the sector to meet more stringent rules than they may face elsewhere.

Apple’s plan to focus on the personal side of AI takes centre stage after years of developmentOpens in new window ]

Take Apple, for example. The company recently announced its new operating system would come with AI built-in. But while customers in the US and further afield will get the new features as they are gradually rolled out, Apple has decided to pause their introduction in Europe. It is mainly due to regulatory uncertainty, but it is part of a wider pattern.


Meta warns that Europe is falling behind in AI innovationOpens in new window ]

When Google unveiled its AI last year, it initially only launched in the US. When it widened the AI tools into the system now known as Gemini, EU countries were not on the list to get the features first. Meta, meanwhile, has paused plans to use public data on its platforms to train models for its AI. New AI rules, while protecting user privacy here, will inevitably lead to new services that rely on artificial intelligence launching later in Europe, if at all.

Nearly two-thirds of large Irish companies using AI in financial reportingOpens in new window ]

Past experience would say that allowing big tech free rein is not a good idea.

But EU policymakers need to balance data protection and safeguards with ensuring European companies aren’t left behind when it comes to digital innovations.