June 21. 2024. 3:16

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Staffing questions swirl around Commision’s AI Office


Roughly two months after the EU’s landmark Artificial Intelligence (AI) Act was passed by the European Parliament, the office within the EU Commission that is set to guide its implementation remains understaffed and with no leadership.

The pace of staffing the office may not be unusual for a public institution, but the Brussels tech bubble is sitting on hot coals. Some stakeholders are concerned it may prove a bottleneck for implementing the hundreds of pages of the AI Act, particularly those set to come into force by the end of this year.

“The establishment of the AI Office is actually advancing rapidly, well ahead of the entry into force of the AI Act, which is expected in July,” an EU Commission official told Euractiv on Friday (22 May).

The Commission’s Directorate-General for Communication Networks, Content and Technology (DG Connect) where the AI Office is set up, is undergoing a reorganisation to accommodate the AI Office, people close to the issue told Euractiv.

An announcement on the office will come in about two weeks, as “a change in structure” is underway, Lucilla Sioli, director of DG Connect’s A Unit, said at the EU Digital Summit on 15 May in Brussels.

Three Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), all of whom were shadow rapporteurs for the file, sent questions to the Commission about the AI Office’s leadership and recruitment process in April.

German Renew MEP Svenja Hahn, among those who sent the questions, said last week they haven’t heard back. Romanian Renew Dragoş Tudorache, rapporteur for the AI Act, separately expressed dissatisfaction with the level of transparency around the AI Office.

The current structure in DG Connect is in “a mission impossible” to implement the AI Act, German EPP MEP Axel Voss, told Euractiv.

“Their budget is very limited, there is a worrying lack of staffers and too slow hiring process: already before the AI Act entered into force, the EU lags behind many important deadlines. In order to make the AI Office work, we need significant changes to the normal modus operandi of the European Commission,” he said.

“The fact that the Commission is already mapping deliverables for the future and has already started recruitment in March actually reflects that it is preparing well ahead of time,” a Comission official said.

Co-rapporteur Brando Benifei after the vote on the AI Act at the E.U. Parliament on March 13. [European Parliament/screenshot]

The long and winding road to implement the AI Act

On Wednesday (13 March), the European Parliament passed its first comprehensive regulation on artificial intelligence (AI), but major questions remain on how the law will be implemented.

The relativity of time

“It might appear like there is a long time, but it is not that long,” Tudorache told Euractiv. As soon as the Act is published in the EU’s official Journal, “the clock starts ticking,” and there is a lot of work to be done to clarify how companies have to comply with the Act, he said.

The Commission has identified about 64 deliverables for the AI Office, sources told Euractiv.

Prohibitions on certain uses of AI are set to take effect at the end of the year. Codes of practice for general-purpose models such as ChatGPT, are to be developed within nine months of the legislation coming into force.

Currently, under ten people within DG Connect have been given tasks related to the office, sources told Euractiv.

One person that delt with some of the Commission employees, said that they seemed “genuinely overwhelmed,” while another spoke of an employee working when ill.

The Commission opened two positions for the AI Office back in March, one for a technical specialist and one for an administrative assistant. They received 500 applications for each, Sioli said.

The recruitment process is “progressing well,” said a Commission official. At the Digital Summit, Sioli said that it “takes some time” as candidates sit for exams.

CAST exams, a common requirement for Commission officials, are set for June 14, and results will be released two weeks after, according to the EU Personnel Office.

The hiring process may take six months, one person told Euractiv, meaning the two positions won’t be filled before the end of the summer.

The Commission will soon open positions for lawyers, AI ethicists, and other non-technical positions, said Killian Gross, head of DG Connect’s A2 Unit at an event organised by the Future of Life Institute on 16 May.

Leadership

The other key question for the office is who will lead it. The Commission hasn’t announced any candidates or provided any details on the selection process.

People that Euractiv spoke to speculated that MEP Tudorache himself is angling for the leadership position at the office. They pointed to a closed-doors high-profile event that he organised at the beginning of April as an attempt to pitch himself as a good candidate.

Tudorache said the event, with 400 attendees, was his last of the mandate, aiming to bring together decision-makers and experts from all over the world.

The MEP confirmed to Euractiv that he is not running in the upcoming EU election, scheduled for 6-9 June.

Asked about whether he has plans once his tenure ends, Tudorache said “of course I do, but none that I will share.”

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