The potential for Artiﬁcial Intelligence (AI) to radically change society is not only generating excitement but also raising concerns about its possible negative impact, especially in relation to privacy and data protection.
Acknowledging these fears, the new Commission president Ursula von der Leyen wrote in a letter to Renew group leader Dacian Ciolos, “Digital technologies are transforming the world. I believe in the opportunities digitalisation creates as long as we set the right boundaries and conditions, including ﬁnding the right balance between innovation and privacy.”
Von der Leyen adds, “the next challenge for Europe’s economy is the free ﬂ ow and wide use of data and development of trusted AI solutions.” That is why within the ﬁrst 100 days she has pledged to put forward new legislation for a coordinated European approach on the human and ethical implications of AI.
Recognising the revolutionary change AI may bring, the Commission presented in 2018 two key initiatives, the ‘Coordinated Plan on Artiﬁcial Intelligence’ and the ‘Coordinated Plan on the Development and Use of Artiﬁcial Intelligence Made in Europe.”
The aim of both papers was to put forward a European approach to AI by focusing on supporting innovation and development. The key aim was to ﬁnd fast ways to transfer any advancements in European AI research programmes to industry and, hopefully, on to markets, the public sector and then consumers.
Creating advanced products for all economic sectors can boost both economic growth and help solve the world’s biggest challenges, such as curing diseases, managing the energy transition, anticipating natural disasters, making transport safer and ﬁghting crime and improving cyber security.
“AI can bring major benefits to our society and economy but also risks” Didier Reynders
Another key area where AI can bring advances is in Europe’s space programmes, in particular, with the help of algorithm data collected through the Copernicus satellites which could support several economic sectors.
Creating commercial new products and services may help monitor and ﬁght climate change. The EU also wants to see start-up companies and SMEs not only contribute but also beneﬁt from innovations in AI, and not just large sized corporations.
Von der Leyen is supported in this by Margrethe Vestager, the Commission’s new executive vice president for ‘Europe ﬁt for digital age’. During her parliamentary hearings she said, “We need rules to make sure AI is used ethically to support human decision making and not undermine it.”
She further added, “The only way we can be successful is to build an AI that we can trust, one that is based on fundamental values.”
With negotiations currently taking place concerning the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) budget, Vestager called on deputies to ﬁnancially support AI saying, “I call upon you to help us pass the budget in order not to lose time for these crucial investments.”
EU commissioner for the internal market, Thierry Breton, told deputies during his parliamentary hearing that not only would there be a new framework on AI, but also a strategy towards the establishment of a common market for data.
“The only way we can be successful is to build an AI that we can trust” Margrethe Vestager
"I want a Europe that is a master over its own data, which we can also share according to clear criteria which is essential for the internet of things,” he said. Despite advances made in AI by Europe’s competitors, Breton reassured members that the EU had not lost the AI war against the US or China.
He revealed there will be changes to the rules concerning the market for digital services and goods. This includes updates to the Digital Services Act with the aim to regulate the big platforms and also the possibility of modifying the Ecommerce directive. “Clearly, the obligations and responsibilities of platforms will be addressed,” he said.
In a letter to MEPs, EU commissioner for justice, Didier Reynders, wrote, “AI is crucial for this century. It can bring major beneﬁts to our society and economy, but also risks.” The Belgian wants to see a coordinated European approach to AI, noting, “We must develop policies that protects both individuals […] while at the same time allowing Europe to be competitive in AI.”
Recognising concerns that algorithms and AI innovation can be designed with societal ‘biases’ of both the programmer and user, Didier said “it is now essential to shape a framework to address the possible challenges for human dignity, nondiscrimination, equality, freedom of expression and other fundamental rights.”
He told deputies that he would be working closely with both Vestager and Breton on any future legislation, stressing, “Regulation and development should go hand in hand. Developing AI on the basis of share European values can be a competitive advantage, as trust is a very important factor in the uptake of the development of this technology.”