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Southeast Asia Is Challenging EU Objectives By Aiming For Hands-Off AI Guidelines

Southeast Asia Is Challenging EU Objectives By Aiming For Hands-Off AI Guidelines
Southeast Asian nations are approaching artificial intelligence legislation in a business-friendly manner, putting the European Union's desire for internationally unified regulations that complement its own severe framework on the back burner.
A private draught of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations' (ASEAN) "guide to AI ethics and governance," whose contents have not previously been revealed, was examined by Reuters. ASEAN is made up of 10 countries.
According to three sources cited by Reuters, the draught is being sent to tech companies for comment and is anticipated to be approved at the ASEAN Digital Ministers Meeting at the end of January 2024. It has been given to organisations like Meta, IBM, and Google.
In an effort to persuade governments in the region to embrace new AI standards for tech businesses that require disclosure of copyrighted and AI-generated content, EU officials travelled to Asia early this year.
The ASEAN "AI guide" differs from the EU's AI Act in that it does not specify unacceptable risk categories and instead advises businesses to consider cultural differences across nations. It serves as a framework for domestic rules and is voluntary, like all ASEAN policies.
Southeast Asian nations, home to about 700 million people and more than a thousand different ethnic and cultural groupings, have drastically varying laws governing hate speech, censorship, and public material that would probably affect the regulation of artificial intelligence. Thailand, for instance, prohibits insulting its monarchy. 
In a region where existing local rules are already complex, technology executives claim that ASEAN's mostly hands-off policy is more business-friendly since it reduces the compliance burden and fosters innovation.
"We are also pleased to see this guide aligns closely with other leading AI frameworks, such as the United States’ NIST AI Risk Management Framework," IBM Asia's vice president of government affairs Stephen Braim said, referring to voluntary guidelines developed by the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology.
There were no comments available from Meta and Google.
The document, which is intended to be reviewed on a regular basis, calls on governments to support businesses through funding for R&D and creates a working group of ASEAN digital ministers to deploy AI.
Senior officials in three ASEAN nations expressed optimism about the possibilities of artificial intelligence for Southeast Asia and said they thought the EU had acted prematurely in pushing for regulation before the risks and rewards of the technology were fully appreciated.
The ASEAN handbook recommends businesses to implement AI governance training and a risk assessment system, but leaves the specifics up to them and local regulators.
"We see it as putting ‘guardrails’ for safer AI," one official told Reuters. "We still want innovation."
The book alerts readers to the dangers of artificial intelligence (AI) being used to spread false information, create "deepfakes" and impersonate others, but it leaves it up to individual nations to decide how best to respond.
Other Asian countries, like Japan and South Korea, have indicated that their laws governing artificial intelligence are similarly loose. This raises questions about the EU's goal of creating a worldwide standard for AI governance based on laws that would be applicable to its 27 member states.
Concerns in Brussels about the quick growth of AI and its impact on civil rights and security are what are pushing the EU forward. As a result, risk controls and enforcement are at the heart of the legislation that is being proposed.
Even though ASEAN doesn't have any legislative authority, its preference for individual member states to determine their own foreign policy puts those nations on a very different path than the EU.
The EU's failures to forge international agreement on AI regulation stand in contrast to its largely successful push to enact data protection regulations over the past decade, which have served as a model for other significant economies across the world.
"What we think is important is to have similar principles," a European Commission spokesperson told Reuters. "We are not seeking full harmonisation, as we are mindful of cultural differences, however, we regard the underlying principles as important."
According to Reuters, EU officials and lawmakers said that the group would keep holding discussions with Southeast Asian nations to find common ground on more general themes.
"If we want AI to be used for good, we need to come together on the basic principles of human rights," Dutch minister for digitalisation Alexandra van Huffelen told Reuters. "I don’t think we are very far off from that we couldn’t bridge the differences."

Christopher J. Mitchell

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