Despite its launch in 180 countries and territories, Bard, Google’s alternative to ChatGPT, has yet to reach a significant region: the European Union. Although it has been available for months and was the main focus of Google’s recent I/O event, millions of people residing in the 27 EU member states are excluded from accessing Bard by the company’s own decision.
Google has refused to explain the reasons behind this omission, but it appears to be a significant standoff against the EU. Brando Benifei, the representative from the European Parliament tasked with leading negotiations on new regulations for artificial intelligence in Europe, has expressed his bewilderment at the exclusion of the bloc and describes the absence of the EU in Bard’s launch as a “major issue.”
Furthermore, this situation could indicate something deeper: that current generative artificial intelligence technology is fundamentally incompatible with existing and developing laws in the EU.
Amidst the negotiations on new regulations to govern artificial intelligence through the proposed legislation known as the Artificial Intelligence Act, uncertainty arises around the launch of Bard in the region. Furthermore, the existence of established laws such as the GDPR and the Digital Services Act (DSA) may be hindering the implementation of generative artificial intelligence systems within the bloc.
According to Nicolas Moës, Director of European AI Governance, there is a possibility that Google is seizing this opportunity to send a message to Euro MPs just before the approval of the Artificial Intelligence Act, aiming to influence votes and prompt decision-makers to reflect before attempting to regulate foundational models. Additionally, Google is not the only company making this decision; Meta, the parent company of Facebook, also chose not to launch BlenderBot, its generative AI chatbot, in the EU.
The only places in Europe where you can access Google Bard
However, there is a slight possibility to try out Bard in Europe. In a strange twist, Google has made its generative AI services available in a small number of territories, including the Norwegian dependency of Bouvet Island, an uninhabited island in the Southern Atlantic Ocean that is home to 50,000 penguins… and hardly anyone else.
Tobias Judin, Head of the International Department at the Norwegian Data Protection Authority, finds it “very strange” that Bard can be used in these territories since European data protection rules still apply “for the most part.” However, he suggests that this situation could be a oversight on Google’s part or the result of more flexible regulations in these remote locations. It’s important to note that Norway is not a member of the EU but is part of the European Economic Area.
Google has declined to comment on the availability of Bard in these territories or on the claims that it is attempting to influence AI policy by not launching the chatbot in the EU. However, according to Google spokesperson Delia Williams-Falokun, while they have not finalized the timeline for expansion plans, they intend to implement them gradually and responsibly worldwide.
On the other hand, the European Union is clear that Google’s strategy is not a threat. While they want all European citizens to be able to use Bard, safety comes first, and they fear that an application of this nature could lead to serious problems. Perhaps in the coming months, everything will become clearer, but for now, it is a standoff that no one is willing to lose.
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