Resistance is futile. The EU will regulate your holodeck

This instinct that Brussels has to regulate absolutely everything is not just some silly little peculiarity. It is toxic. (Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images)


European politicians are so addicted to bureaucracy that they now want to regulate things that don’t exist.

In late November, the European Parliament’s Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) committee voted in favour of demanding that “virtual worlds” be regulated by Europe.

According to the, thankfully, non-binding resolution, virtual reality landscapes pose a threat to society. The resolution calls on Brussels to step in and regulate the tech in order to prevent outbreaks of “cyber illness” and “cyber violence”.

There’s just one problem: “virtual worlds” don’t really exist yet.

Yes, there are a few semi-functional online VR platforms floating around our 21st-century internet. Mark Zuckerberg’s economically disastrous “metaverse” pet project is probably the most famous of them.

Well, infamous might be the better term. The project tanked Facebook’s share price, knocking hundreds of billions of dollars off the company’s total value.

The EU also at one stage tried to develop its own “metaverse” platform. Unsurprisingly, they didn’t do any better than Meta.

Costing around €400,000, the platform launched last year, and almost no one bothered to log on. The few who did, myself among them, were treated to a user experience so awful it was comedic. The project has since been mothballed.

Even the more successful VR products today are extremely niche. The simple fact is that technology is nowhere near advanced enough now to justify the mass adoption of virtual reality and, by extension, so-called “virtual worlds”. Star Trek’s holodeck is still decades – maybe even centuries – away. What exists now is really just there for geeks like me to gawk at.

And yet here comes Brussels, ready to kick down the door and demand the nerds march to their tune.

What brought this about? What are they frightened of? Perhaps the image of Patrick Stewart killing aliens with “virtual” bullets in Star Trek: First Contact spooked them. If it’s possible in sci-fi, then could it be possible in real life?

Best to be on the safe side and regulate it, just in case. The EU must regulate the holodeck now to make sure no innocent borg are murdered by renegade Starfleet captain.

You have to laugh, really. Europe is so keen on regulation that it is now floating laws for holodeck and other sci-fi gear that doesn’t exist yet. It remains unclear when exactly we will have virtual reality tech so good that it is near-indistinguishable from real life.

But by god, when that day does arrive, Europe will have the regulations ready to go!

In the case of virtual reality, the EU’s manic instinct to regulate absolutely everything is funny. Brussels bureaucracy in this area is as stupid as it is harmless. Our economy is not reliant on VR and won’t be anytime soon. Eurocrats can regulate their hearts out here, and almost no one will even notice.

But this habit, this instinct that Brussels has to regulate absolutely everything is not just some silly little peculiarity. It is toxic.

In the space of less than two years, we have gone from AI being a pipe dream to it being firmly present in our day-to-day lives. We use ChatGPT for emails, Bard for search results, DALL-E for mocking the EU.

It is still early days for the technology, and yet it has already transformed the lives of so many. This trend only looks to accelerate considering we are seeing new AI breakthroughs every few months. The sector is experiencing a veritable gold rush.

So what does Brussels do? Does it jump on the trend? Does it try to catch up with the likes of China and the United States, both of which have been forging a path with the new tech?

Of course not. Brussels starts regulating it.

Both the European Parliament and the European Commission are desperate to slap controls on AI. They are adamant that we need to impose restrictions to make sure it is safe and, more importantly, does not result in discrimination.

By extension, it also wants to heavily fine any entity developing the technology that fails to obey any rules the EU judges fit to impose.

I feel I shouldn’t need to explain how utterly self-destructive this is, and yet Eurocrats seem to universally think implementing harsh regulation on artificial intelligence at this early stage is a good idea.

At a conference in November, I remember being regaled by those close to the RENEW group about how wonderful this effort to control AI was. That Europe was living up to its reputation as a “regulatory superpower”.

Of course, actual businessmen were horrified by the idea. One audience member flatly told a panel on the subject that if the EU passes its controls as planned, he would likely have to move his nascent startup to the United States.

Others mentioned that this idea that Europe is a “regulatory superpower” was fiction, and only spoken of within the Brussels bubble. It was just some fantasy dreamt up by Eurocrats desperate to justify their own existence.

Neither criticism really seemed to land with those in attendance, MEPs included. They instead continued talking enthusiastically about all the new restrictions on AI they wanted to make law.

This is not some nonsense holodeck regulation. This is an attempt by EU officials to regulate away one of the most powerful technologies of the 21st century. America and China are desperate to capitalise on it. Brussels wants to strangle the EU’s AI sector while it is still in the crib.

Things cannot go on like this. Since 1945, Europe has gone from being the centre of the world to a geopolitical sideshow. The EU’s share of the world economy has shrunk from 25.5 per cent of global GDP in 1990 to just under 15 per cent in 2022 n purchasing power parity terms. It will continue to shrink as other nations develop.

Even our ability to regulate as much as we do today is down to the fact the EU still holds some economic sway compared to other powers, having an economy big enough that most corporations are willing to put up with some stupid rules to expand their profits.

If Europe continues to fall into obscurity, it won’t take long before even our ability to regulate will collapse.

Earlier this year, Meta launched Threads, a new social media platform meant to compete with Elon Musk’s X. However, Threads still has not launched in the EU as of writing, with rumours that it might finally be ported over to Europe only surfacing in the last few days.

Google too has been slow to move products eastwards, with Bard’s search capabilities in Europe only a fraction of what it can do in the United States.

Companies are beginning to lose patience with our nonsense. If the profitability of doing business in Europe continues to fall, many will simply stop bothering to deal with it.

If things don’t change, Europe’s holodeck regulations will ultimately be pointless. Foreign manufacturers making them will likely not bother selling to the future EU, as regulations will in time make such sales unprofitable. Domestic companies will likely not sell them either, as their ability to operate while making a profit will also be eroded away to nothing.

On the bright side, we will likely not see much “cyber illness”, let alone “cyber violence”.

But this will not be a good Europe. This will definitely not be a prosperous Europe. This will be a Europe absent of the same quality of living enjoyed by other developed nations. It will also be a Europe at the mercy of those more powerful nations, lacking a domestic industry and economy able to stand up to foreign meddling.

If we do not want our children to live in that world, we need to kick our regulation addiction. We need to be willing to let the free market be just that, free. Let the AI nerds develop AI the way they see fit. Let European industry thrive without arbitrary rules and regulations, and we may see Europe thrive once again.

And, for goodness sake, lets leave the holodecks alone.