Swiss flag on the top of Mannlichen

Switzerland extends neutrality to AI regulations

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As global powers rush to regulate artificial intelligence (AI), Switzerland is choosing to stay neutral and allow the industry to develop at its own pace, extending a hands-off approach spanning hundreds of years.

China and the United States have taken a massive lead in AI, accounting for twice as many funded AI startups over the past decade as the next 15 nations combined. In Europe, Germany, France and the United Kingdom are the dominant forces.

And yet, Switzerland could be the most impactful nation in charting the future of the technology globally. The tiny Alpine nation has an outsized influence on global regulations, balancing the capitalist Western market, the Keynesian Eastern economies and the safety-first European regulatory approach. While Switzerland’s neutrality started on the military front, it now extends to every societal aspect, including tech regulations.

Livia Walpen, an official at the country’s telecoms watchdog OFCOM, aptly summarized the Swiss approach: “For Switzerland, no regulation is better than bad regulation.”

With AI, Switzerland is selecting to maintain this neutrality, says Ayisha Piotti, the head of the country’s Annual AI Policy Summit. Speaking to one outlet, she revealed that Swiss regulators are avoiding overarching policies that could stifle innovation.

“We wanted to look at the technology in a certain use case and then fill in the gap regarding legislation. This, essentially, then leads you to a sector-specific approach and not a very big horizontal EU AI Act. We are not targeting the technology,” stated Piotti.

Despite being at the heart of European diplomacy, Switzerland is not a member of the European Union. This exempts Swiss AI firms from the EU AI Act, the most comprehensive regional AI framework. As it has done with other EU policies, Switzerland will customize it for its local companies. According to Swiss AI expert Alex Brunner, the government has already embarked on research into the technology’s impact.

“Carefully balancing sensible regulation with strong research is the foundation of Switzerland’s success. As the world’s freest country, Switzerland offers the freedom to innovate. Innovation needs freedom to be creative,” commented Brunner.

Switzerland’s neutrality is a bold approach. Globally, many leading AI experts have warned against the danger of unchecked AI development as the technology becomes more powerful by the day. This concern has been so high for some researchers that they have quit lucrative positions and risked losing millions of dollars to sound the alarm on the dangers of the technology.

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