In a surprising turn of events, Southeast Asian countries are diverging from the European Union’s ambitions regarding artificial intelligence (AI) regulation. While the EU has been advocating for globally harmonized rules aligning with its stringent framework, Southeast Asian nations are adopting a more business-friendly approach, according to a confidential draft of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) “guide to AI ethics and governance” reviewed by Reuters.
The ASEAN guide, yet to be officially released, takes a voluntary stance, offering guidelines rather than enforceable regulations. Unlike the EU’s AI Act, it doesn’t prescribe specific unacceptable risk categories, emphasizing the need for companies to consider cultural differences within the member countries. This flexibility is essential in a region with diverse rules governing areas such as censorship, misinformation, and hate speech. For instance, Thailand has stringent laws against criticizing its monarchy, necessitating nuanced AI regulations.
The ASEAN guide encourages companies to implement AI risk assessment structures and governance training, but it leaves the specifics to be determined by individual companies and local regulators. This approach, termed as putting “guardrails” for safer AI, is welcomed by technology executives. They believe this hands-off approach reduces the compliance burden, fostering innovation in a region where existing laws are already complex.
Furthermore, the ASEAN guide highlights the potential risks associated with AI, including misinformation, deepfakes, and impersonation. While it warns against these dangers, it allows individual countries the freedom to develop their strategies to combat them. This approach reflects the belief that AI’s potential benefits should not be stifled by excessive regulation, allowing innovation to thrive.
ASEAN’s stance on AI regulation has raised concerns in the EU, which has been actively promoting AI regulation based on its member states’ rules. EU officials emphasize the importance of establishing similar underlying principles, even though they acknowledge the cultural differences between regions. The EU’s push for AI regulation is driven by concerns about AI’s rapid development, and its impact on civil rights, and security. Despite the differences in approach, both the EU and Southeast Asian nations share the goal of ensuring AI is used for the greater good while safeguarding human rights.
As the ASEAN member states move forward with their business-friendly AI guidelines, the global landscape of AI regulation becomes increasingly complex. While the EU continues its efforts to align on basic principles, the diversity in approaches highlights the challenges of establishing a unified global standard for AI governance. The evolving dynamics between regions will undoubtedly shape the future of AI regulation, with ongoing discussions and negotiations expected to bridge the gaps and create a framework that balances innovation with ethical considerations.