This article uses a socio-legal perspective to analyze the use of ethics guidelines as a governance tool in the development and use of artificial intelligence (AI). This has become a central policy area in several large jurisdictions, including China and Japan, as well as the EU, focused on here. Particular emphasis in this article is placed on the Ethics Guidelines for Trustworthy AI published by the EU Commission’s High-Level Expert Group on Artificial Intelligence in April 2019, as well as the White Paper on AI, published by the EU Commission in February 2020. The guidelines are reflected against partially overlapping and already-existing legislation as well as the ephemeral concept construct surrounding AI as such. The article concludes by pointing to (1) the challenges of a temporal discrepancy between technological and legal change, (2) the need for moving from principle to process in the governance of AI, and (3) the multidisciplinary needs in the study of contemporary applications of data-dependent AI.
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