ChatGPT ban: Will other countries follow Italy's lead?

Elon Musk was asking for a moratorium, could we see an outright ban on ChatGPT?
Ameya Paleja
GPT-4 is OpenAI's most advanced AI model so far
GPT-4 is OpenAI's most advanced AI model so far


The meteoric rise of generative artificial intelligence (AI) models suffered a major setback on Friday, when Italy became the first Western country to block the conversational chatbot ChatGPT.

Italian data protection agencies brought the ban into force citing privacy concerns, but this ban is already drawing the attention of regulators in other countries, some of which haven't ruled out blocking the chatbot in their own countries too. This could potentially put the brakes on the juggernaut led by OpenAI and other AI companies that are dishing out new and improved iterations of their products faster than ever before.

The bigger question now is, what will happen next?

Can regulators bind AI down in chains?

Since ChatGPT's popular launch in November last year, its creators OpenAI haven't looked back. The popularity of its ChatGPT has brought in more funding from Microsoft, which is keen to breathe in fresh air into its legacy products like Office apps and even revive the less-used search engine, Bing.

Amidst all the hype about the capabilities of AI, risks of its usage have been papered over. Interesting Engineering previously reported how OpenAI fixed a bug that allowed a small set of users to see other people's chat histories. A detailed report about the incident was expected but a fortnight later, we haven't heard anything from the company yet.

ChatGPT ban: Will other countries follow Italy's lead?
With so many AI models, concerns of privacy are rising

Unperturbed, the company has gone ahead and released plugins for ChatGPT, allowing users and developers to share more data with ChatGPT and adding another layer of complexity to the entire system.

Italy's privacy regulator, Garante, which works independently of the government, issued a ban after an incident of privacy breach, where sensitive information from users such as their first and last names, and financial information such as the last four digits of their credit card, its expiration date remained exposed for over nine hours.

Garante also highlighted that OpenAI had no mechanisms to check if its users were indeed aged 13 and above, as is the legal requirement for its usage. Following the ban, OpenAI has stopped its services in Italy and has said that it will work with the regulator to get ChatGPT restored in the country.

However, the ban sets a precedent for other regulators in Europe to follow suit and stop ChatGPT and other AI services from being made available to people till privacy concerns are understood and attended to.

The European Union (EU) has been the first to propose an act to address the challenges and outcomes of AI in the world. Even as the rules and regulations of this Act still need to be debated and implementation may be a few years away, regulators are of the view that provisions of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) apply to AI companies as well and can be used to bring their activities under regulatory purview.

The Future of Life Insitute (FLI) cited some far-into-the-future apocalyptic events as risks to put a moratorium on AI research for the next six months, a letter that its financial sponsor, Elon Musk signed.

Perhaps, privacy issues of AI systems were all that were needed to be highlighted to clip the wings of OpenAI and push back against companies aggressive in this space. Nevertheless, the ban will put the focus on issues that need to be discussed and ironed out, before we herald the new age of AI.

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