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Southeast Asia to pursue hands-off AI regulatory framework: report

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Southeast Asia will adopt a hands-off regulatory approach to artificial intelligence (AI), dealing a blow to Europe’s steadfast push for a unified global approach, a new report has revealed.

Through the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the region has drafted a “guide to AI ethics and governance” that lays out its approach. The proposals include pursuing business-friendly regulations to elevate the region’s AI efforts as adoption surges.

ASEAN’s approach differs from other regions, which have pushed for a harmonized regional and global approach to regulating emerging technology. Europe has been the key force behind this push, with the EU imposing its AI Act on other regions. European regulators have toured Southeast Asia in recent months to push this agenda, making the region’s stand even bolder.

ASEAN nations want AI to be regulated at a national level. The 10-member regional body will only provide the regulators and companies guardrails. This includes requiring the developers to consider the region’s varying cultural differences and nuances when developing their AI software. For instance, Thailand, a constitutional monarchy, has different rules on censorship from the Philippines, a democracy.

The framework also urges governments to support AI development by funding research and development initiatives and establishing a regional AI working group.

The regional body has distributed the proposed AI framework to national governments and leading AI companies, sources revealed. This includes Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL), IBM (NASDAQ: IBM), and Meta (NASDAQ: META).

“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,” the vice president of government affairs at IBM Asia, Stephen Braim, commented.

Other technology officials praised the approach, which they say will spur innovation in a region known for rapid technology adoption.

ASEAN may provide contrast approach to EU’s stricter AI policies

The proposed framework will be finalized at the ASEAN Digital Ministers Meeting in January 2024, potentially dealing a significant blow to the European Union’s global push to influence AI regulations.

The EU has been a global leader in regulating technology, with its MiCA framework is the most comprehensive in the digital asset world and is informing other regions’ approaches. Europe’s data protection laws, primarily through the GDPR framework, have shaped how the world interacts with internet data.

However, with AI, the EU’s approach has become a tough sell. Japanese regulators were the first to speak out against the “almost impossible” approach in July. Japan is reportedly leaning toward a soft approach as the EU’s rules “are too strict,” a senior official revealed at the time.

AI companies have also pushed back against the EU. In June, over 160 executives at top companies, including Meta and Spanish telco Cellnex (NASDAQ: CLNXF), signed an open letter opposing the new framework.

Despite the setbacks, the EU is pushing on with its lobbying for the AI Act.

“Our mission is again to make sure that what’s happening in the EU, which is our large constituency if I may say so, is protected. I believe that it will be probably not too far from each other because we share the same values,” says Thierry Breton, the region’s industry chief.

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