Europe has been signaling it wants to be a leading player in the area of artificial intelligence and digital transformation for quite some time and catch up with the US and China in the race. Today, the European Commission officially presented a white paper on Artificial Intelligence and a European Data Strategy that aim to boost the AI development in the union.
“We are aware that things are moving on so fast, that we need to do more. Therefore, we want to boost European AI by attracting over €20B a year for the next decade,” said in a public statement the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. The two new documents should serve as pillars for the new digital strategy of the Commission that is aimed at putting people first when developing technology, allowing the European real economy to advance through giving more access to data, improving public services, and not least reaching Europe’s goal to be climate neutral by 2050.
But how will the EU achieve this leadership
In the next five years, the EC will focus on three key objectives to promote technological solutions that will boost the economic growth and improve citizens’ lives. What does it mean in practice: investments in the development of AI, supercomputing and cybersecurity (not yet specified in what form), building shared data spaces where data will be accessible for researchers and businesses, and regulating the usage of this data to ensure that individuals remain in full control of their data.
“Artificial intelligence is a key factor in achieving our climate goal of becoming CO2-neutral by 2050,” said Ursula von der Leyen at the presentation. In agriculture, intelligent systems could help save pesticides, and at home, a lot of electricity for heating could be saved through intelligent control. During her speech, von der Leyen also emphasized the role of AI in healthcare for precision surgery and early diagnostics, but also for smart manufacturing, where, according to her, Europe already has a pole position.
The Commission now wants Europe to become a world-leading location for “trusted” artificial intelligence (AI) applications and hopes to be able to mobilize €20B public and private investments per year to achieve that goal. But of course, this trustworthiness means also regulations.
INFOBOX: Where is this € 20B coming from
The required investments will be channeled from the Digital Europe programme (DEP), the Connecting Europe Facility 2 and Horizon Europe. For Horizon Europe, the Commission proposed €15 billion to be invested in the ‘Digital, Industry and Space’ cluster, with AI as a key activity to be supported. As part of DEP, the European Commission proposed to invest almost €2.5 billion in deploying data platforms and AI applications. Out of these, €2 billion euros could be invested into a European High Impact project on European data spaces, including trustworthy and energy-efficient data sharing and cloud infrastructures. EU-level funding in AI should attract and pool investment in areas where the required action goes beyond what any single Member State can achieve.
The objective is to attract over €20 billion total investment in the EU per year in AI over the next decade. To stimulate private and public investment, the EU will make available resources from the Digital Europe Programme, Horizon Europe as well as from the European Structural and Investment Funds to address the needs of less developed regions as well as rural areas.
Using the data but having in mind the risks
The basis for the development of European AI is data – so far, so good. “Today, only a fraction of the data produced is ever used. This is not sustainable,” said von der Leyen. Therefore, companies should have easier access to data in the future and be able to exchange it within the EU.
European data centers are to be created, where governments, research institutions, and companies can not only store their data but can also access data from others (subject to approval). Citizens, businesses, and organizations should be empowered to make better decisions based on insights gleaned from non-personal data. That data should be available to all, whether public or private, start-up or giant, read the official documents.
Europe is well positioned in AI research, von der Leyen said, with most of the scientific papers on AI being produced by European researchers. Yet, there is still a clear lack of translation of these findings into applications for the market.
The data strategy presented by the Commission, however, clearly states that in order to achieve trustworthiness and a human-centric approach, there should be certain rules. The certifications for high-risk AI systems in sectors like recruitment, healthcare, transport, police, and law enforcement need to be certified, tested and controlled, before they reach the single market, just as cars, cosmetics, and toys are. AI-supported facial recognition in public spaces, which has been a hot topic recently, will be prohibited unless such use is duly justified, proportionate and subject to adequate safeguards, state the documents.
Later this year, the Commission will propose more specific measures on achieving all the set goals. The White Paper on Artificial Intelligence is open for public consultation until 19 May 2020. The Commission is also gathering feedback on the data strategy.