LONDON – OpenAI CEO Sam Altman on Friday downplayed worries that the ChatGPT maker could exit the European Union if it can't comply with the bloc's strict new artificial intelligence rules, coming after a top official rebuked him for comments raising such a possibility.
Altman is traveling through Europe as part of a world tour to meet with officials and promote his AI company, which has unleashed a frenzy around the globe.
At a stop this week in London, he said OpenAI might leave if the artificial intelligence rules that the EU is drawing up are too tough. That triggered a pointed reply on social media from European Commissioner Thierry Breton, accusing the company of blackmail.
Breton, who's in charge of digital policy, linked to a Financial Times article quoting Altman saying that OpenAI “will try to comply, but if we can’t comply we will cease operating.”
Altman sought to calm the waters a day later, tweeting: “very productive week of conversations in europe about how to best regulate AI! we are excited to continue to operate here and of course have no plans to leave.”
The European Union is at the forefront of global efforts to draw up guardrails for artificial intelligence, with its AI Act in the final stages after years of work. The rapid rise of general purpose AI chatbots like ChatGPT caught EU officials off guard, and they scrambled to add provisions covering so-called generative AI systems, which can produce convincingly human-like conversational answers, essays, images and more in response to questions from users.
“There is no point in attempting blackmail — claiming that by crafting a clear framework, Europe is holding up the rollout of generative #AI,” Breton said in his tweet. He added that the EU aims to “assist companies in their preparation” for the AI Act.
Altman tweeted that his European tour includes Warsaw, Poland; Munich, Germany; Paris; Madrid; Lisbon, Portugal; and London. Brussels, headquarters of the EU, has not been mentioned.
He has met with world leaders including British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, French President Emmanuel Macron, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai also has been crisscrossing Europe this week to discuss AI with officials like Scholz, European commissioners including Breton, Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, and two EU lawmakers who spearheaded the Parliament's work on the AI rules.
“Good to discuss the need for responsible regulation and transatlantic convergence on AI,” Pichai tweeted.
Google has released its own conversational chatbot, Bard, to compete with ChatGPT.
Other tech company bosses have been wading into the debate this week over whether and how to regulate artificial intelligence, including Microsoft President Brad Smith, who unveiled a blueprint for public governance of AI on Thursday.
Microsoft has invested billions in OpenAI and integrated ChatGPT-like technology into its products, including a chatbot for its Bing search engine.
Altman told congressional lawmakers this month that AI should be regulated by a U.S. or global agency because increasingly powerful systems will need government intervention to reduce their risks.
Altman was mobbed by students when he appeared in a “fireside chat” at University College London on Wednesday. He told the audience that the “right answer” to regulating AI is “probably something between the traditional European, U.K. approach and the traditional U.S. approach.”
“I think you really don’t want to overregulate this before you know what shape the technology is going to be," Altman said.
There's still potential to come up with “some sort of global set of norms and enforcement," he said, adding that AI regulation has been a “recurring topic” on his world tour, which has also included stops in Toronto, Rio de Janeiro and Lagos, Nigeria.