How Switzerland wants to participate in the governance of AI

Discussions on the regulation of artificial intelligence (AI) are still in their infancy, according to a report from the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) addressed to the Federal Council. The latter instructed the FDFA to examine in depth “how international rules are born in the field of artificial intelligence, what should be their classification and to what extent they create international law”. The FDFA also had the task of proposing possible measures relating to Switzerland’s position on these issues.

Ongoing international discussions

The report indicates that AI is considered internationally as a key technology of primary geopolitical importance. In addition to its enormous potential, AI also raises fundamental questions of values, especially in the human-machine relationship. Discussions on AI regulation are taking place in many international forums. Although still in their infancy, it is possible to identify a future international regulatory framework with five levels, namely: international law, soft law, national legislative acts with de facto international scope , technical standards and voluntary commitments by companies, and the normative force of facts resulting from technological development.

The report speaks of an international need for AI regulation, with a principles-based and risk-based approach. It also appears that the obligations of public authorities and private companies with regard to the use of AI will be partly governed by the same principles.

Switzerland’s role: participating in the development of the rules, but also adapting

The approaches discussed in Switzerland and those debated internationally diverge on certain points. These regulatory frameworks are certainly still in the development phase, but differences are perceptible. Both in terms of the need for and approach to regulation and the distinction between state and private actors. “Switzerland will of course be able to include some elements that will be specific to it in its national legislation on the use of AI, but too great differences between national and international legal standards would harm its full integration into the international market and supply chains. ‘AI supply’, notes the report. However, Switzerland still has the opportunity to actively participate in and contribute to the design of the international regulatory framework for AI. With this in mind, the FDFA lists four proposals:

  1. A group of experts on legal issues, yet to be created, will make its legal expertise in the use of AI available to the entire federal administration. It should be attached to existing AI structures. namely the artificial intelligence skills network (CNAI) and the administrative commission of the tripartite platform. Its members will include both federal experts and external representatives.

  2. The administrative commission should coordinate Switzerland’s positioning in international forums and processes dealing with AI.

  3. Switzerland must strengthen its collaboration with the technical standardization bodies which will play a pivotal role in the international regulatory framework on AI. With this in mind, the FDFA will have to organize an international conference in Geneva in 2022, in collaboration with the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). This conference will examine the interactions between technical standards, conformity assessment and legal standards of the international AI regulatory framework.

  4. Finally, the Federal Council must, by the end of 2022, define a mandate for the Swiss delegation which will participate in the next negotiations of a Council of Europe instrument on AI.

“With the proposed measures, the Federal Council intends to strengthen the legal and technical expertise available, consistently assert Switzerland’s position in international forums dealing with AI and actively participate in the design of the international regulatory framework. of AI in particular in Geneva, the crossroads of international standardization bodies. These measures should also strengthen Geneva in its role as an international platform for issues related to digitization,” the report concludes.

In autumn 2020, the Federal Council adopted a report setting seven guidelines to oversee and preserve innovation in artificial intelligence in the country.

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How Switzerland wants to participate in the governance of AI


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