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AI + EU = BFFs?


You may have heard of the artificial intelligence apocalypse, about AI being more dangerous than nuclear weapons, and of other fatalistic views towards AI. While some believe that the humankind is on the verge of extinction due to machine takeover, the European Commission has taken a more positive approach to AI.

The Commission has been working on embracing change and shaping the future of artificial intelligence in the European Union through strategies and initiatives. At this stage, the EU has decided on a non-legislative approach, and we have summarized below some of the most interesting projects brewing in Brussels:

- Declaration of cooperation. In 2018, all EU member states signed a declaration of cooperation on AI. In the document, the signatories declare a strong will to join forces and engage in a unified European approach to deal with AI issues ranging from ensuring Europe's competitiveness in the research and deployment of AI, to dealing with social, economic, ethical, and legal questions.

- Commission’s AI Communication. In its Communication "Artificial intelligence for Europe" dated 25 April 2018, the Commission put forward a European approach to AI based on three pillars: (i) being ahead of technological developments and encouraging uptake by the public and private sectors; (ii) preparing for socio-economic changes brought about by AI; and (iii) ensuring an appropriate ethical and legal framework. For example, the Commission has proposed an investment increase of approximately EUR 1.5 billion in AI by the end of 2020 under the research and innovation framework program Horizon 2020. The Commission also encourages EU member states and the private sector to make similar efforts to reach an investment total of more than EUR 20 billion.

- High-Level Expert Group on AI. The Commission has appointed a new multi-disciplinary High-Level Expert Group on Artificial Intelligence (AI HLEG). AI HLEG’s first meeting was held on 27 June 2018, and Pekka Ala-Pietilä has been appointed as the chair of the group. AI HLEG has a general objective of supporting the implementation of the European strategy on AI. It will also advise the Commission on the next steps addressing AI-related challenges and opportunities and propose draft AI ethics guidelines. The Commission plans to release the ethics guidelines in 2019, and they will address issues like fairness, safety, transparency, the future of work, and democracy.

- European AI Alliance. The Commission has also established the European AI Alliance, a multi-stakeholder forum that allows interested stakeholders to contribute to the work of the AI HLEG and to discuss all aspects of AI development. So far, AI Alliance stakeholders have offered input on, for example, the concepts of transparency and accountability in AI context. The discussions hosted on the AI Alliance platform will directly contribute to the European debate on AI and feed into the European Commission's policy-making. The Commission plans to host its first annual AI Alliance conference in 2019.

- Making data available. Access to data is crucial for the development of AI. For example, machine learning works by identifying data patterns and further applying that knowledge to new data. The value of the European data economy was more than EUR 285 billion in 2015. The value will continue to increase and by 2020 it could be worth up to EUR 739 billion, representing 4% of the overall GDP of the EU. The Commission intends to support the creation of a European data space: a seamless digital area that enables the development of new data-based products and services.

- Beyond 2020. The Commission has proposed that the focus of the next EU multiannual financial framework (2021–2027) be on, e.g., research and innovation in fields such as explainable AI, unsupervised machine learning, energy and data efficiency, supporting adoption of AI by organizations across all sectors, and exploring joint innovation procurement for the use and development of AI.

It appears that the friendship between the EU and AI continues to grow closer, although it is still early days to determine whether the EU’s efforts will be enough to drive the evolution and adoption of AI within the Union. While the friendship status of the EU and AI is not “best friends forever” quite yet, working towards a unified approach is a good first step. However, there is still much work to be done to convert common policies into thriving businesses – this requires concrete economic opportunities for startups and mature companies alike.

In the words of Commissioner Mariya Gabriel: “Digital is everywhere, data is everywhere, and so is AI.” The EU is in for a challenge in its endeavors to gain a strong foothold in the global AI landscape. Currently, the United States continue to be the clear global market leader and to have the strongest AI ecosystem in terms of funding and volume of AI businesses. Other early AI adopters are China and Israel, whose AI industries are also backed up by political commitment. It remains to be seen how the long-term progress of the EU’s AI economy compares to that of its competitors.

For further information, please contact:
Anna Liinamaa

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