Tech bosses who’re threatening to close down their providers ought to cease crying

Sam Altman, the CEO of OpenAI, really wants AI regulation. He really wants it, madly and deeply. For security reasons and such. Unless, of course, it’s the kind of regulation he doesn’t want. If that were the case, he would instead threaten to withdraw his services.

Altman issued the warning during a tour of European regulators this week. He said OpenAI could “shut down” its operations in the EU if it fails to comply with the Union’s forthcoming AI law.

The 38-year-old is particularly worried about the plans for “high-risk” investments. According to the current proposals OpenAI’s ChatGPT and GPT-4 models would both be classified as high-risk models, which would subject them to additional obligations before entering the market.

Another thorny issue for OpenAI is the new rules for generative models. As it stands, the legislation will do so Require generative AI companies to disclose all copyrighted material used to train their systems. This condition was added after an outcry from artists who say their work is being crawled and monetized without their consent.

Altman, however, called the proposed AI law “over-regulatory.”

“If we can stick to that, we will, and if we can’t, we will shut down operations … We will try.” But there are technical limits to what’s possible,” he said, according to Time.

Altman’s response has been likened to an attempted blackmail by lawmakers. PThankfully, it’s an experience they’ve weathered before.

OpenAI is far from the first tech company to threaten regulators with a product withdrawal.

Google has threatened to pull its search engine out of Australia. WhatsApp has threatened to block its service in the UK. Meta has repeatedly threatened to shut down Facebook and Instagram in Europe. Microsoft has even threatened to remove Windows from unruly US states. So far, none of the threats have come true.

In Altman’s case, the turnaround came just a day later.

“We are happy to continue operating here and of course we have no plans to leave,” he tweeted on Friday.

Very productive week of talks in Europe on how best to regulate AI! We look forward to continuing to work here and of course we have no plans to leave the company.

— Sam Altman (@sama) May 26, 2023

Altman likely won’t be the last tech chief to back down a warning to regulators. But the empty rhetoric is starting to sound like boys howling at wolves.

If they want to be taken seriously, one of them should carry out a threat — or just accept that Silicon Valley can’t always get what it wants.

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