Techmen threatening to shut down services should stop howling wolf

Sam Altman, the CEO of OpenAI, really wants AI regulation. Real, crazy, deep, he wants it. Because of safety etc. Unless, of course, it’s the kind of regulation that he not want to. If so, he threatens to withdraw his services instead.

Altman issued the warning this week during a tour of European regulators. He said OpenAI could “cease operating” in the EU if it can’t comply with the bloc’s impending AI law.

The 38-year-old is particularly concerned about the plans for ‘risky’ systems. Under the current proposals OpenAI’s ChatGPT and GPT-4 models would both be classified as risky, making them subject 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 require generative AI companies to disclose all copyrighted material used to train their systems. This condition was added after protests from artists who say their work is being scrapped and monetized without their consent.

However, Altman described the proposed AI law as “over-regulatory”.

“If we can meet this, we will do it, and if we can’t, we will stop operating… We will try. But there are technical limits to what is possible,” he said, according to Time.

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

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

Google has threatened to withdraw its search engine from Australia. WhatsApp has threatened to block its service in the UK. Meta has threatened to lock down Facebook and Instagram in Europe multiple occasions. Microsoft even threatened to do so Uninstall Windows from unruly American states. To date, none of the threats have been fulfilled.

In Altman’s case, the U-turn came just a day later.

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

Altman is unlikely to be the latest tech boss to backtrack on a warning to regulators. But the empty rhetoric is starting to sound like crying boys.

If they want to be taken seriously, one of them has to follow through on a threat — or simply accept that Silicon Valley doesn’t always get what it wants.