The EU must ensure it is not left behind in the rapidly growing AI sector, while making sure that it pays due respect to the ethics and potential risks, writes Dan Nica.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) will fundamentally shape the future of our societies, economies and labour markets, and the EU is at the forefront of how we can shape its use; maximising its benefits while minimising its considerable risks. European citizens expect us to put in place rules that will ensure trust in, and safe use of, these technologies.
The European Parliament is an indispensable partner in this, which is why we chose to establish a Special Committee on Artificial Intelligence in a Digital Age. This new committee is evidence of the growing political agreement within the Parliament that AI is not only the future but is part of the present. We must shape this, through adequate consideration of the key legal and social challenges.
The Committee, which has an initial mandate of 12 months, is vested with clearly defined responsibilities. As a member of this new committee and as the S&D ITRE coordinator and rapporteur for the Horizon Europe Programme, I strongly believe that emerging technologies, such as AI, can provide us with faster, more efficient solutions.
“We want the EU to be a world leader in product safety and consumer and fundamental rights protection when addressing digital challenges, including for AI”
During these difficult times, AI algorithms and data sharing are accelerating the processing of creation of a vaccine and a cure. The wide-ranging application of AI and machine learning in healthcare and precision medicine are well documented in improving diagnoses, treatment monitoring, analysis interpretation as well developing more effective therapies. In 2019, I proposed a €1.5m pilot project to develop AI for diagnosis and treatment in paediatric cancer. I am happy to report that the Commission has launched a call for this initiative.
The establishment of the Special Committee on AI is a positive step. However, our work is only just beginning. In 2019, the top 15 AI companies in the world were all American and Chinese - no European enterprises. As of January 2020, international rankings do not include any leading European AI stock market opportunities. European countries hold tremendous knowledge, talent and potential in AI. However, they lack adequate infrastructure and an AI ecosystem.
In the 2019 report on the “Countries That Are Leading The Artificial Intelligence Race”, 11 of the top 20 with AI capital were European, although the ranking was topped by America followed by China. Europe needs to achieve technological sovereignty in critical technology areas such as AI, high-performance computing, quantum computing and the key technologies that enable them.
This means setting next-generation standards and coordinating and prioritising European investments in breakthrough technologies, particularly in cybersecurity and human-centric and ethical AI. To strengthen our public and private AI presence, we need to make significant investments in accessibility to open, high-quality, non-personal data sets. We need an infrastructure where non-personal data can be shared, to stimulate generators of high-quality data, such as education institutions and governments, and to share it easily.
Setting up a European data centre network and adopting appropriate regulations for using this data for economic and social benefits is a priority. We want the EU to be a world leader in product safety and consumer and fundamental rights protection when addressing digital challenges, including for AI.
For this, we will need ethical guidelines covering the development, design, production, use and modification of robots and other AI technologies. It will require ambitious, long-term research and innovation policies, combining private and public investment. The EU also strongly needs to retain its AI talent and be more inclusive in using this talent in Europe as well as in attracting further talent from abroad.
We need to be better at using Europe’s huge research potential and converting it into societal and economic gains. This framework should also address the global concentration of patent applications, which could potentially harm European innovation.
Education and research are critical areas for ensuring the EU has a sustainable pipeline of highly skilled workers in AI and a future knowledge-force. The EU digital society is built on, by and with a society of highly skilled citizens. The new committee will also play a central role in the decision-making process.
The EU should focus on forward-looking industries and where it has the opportunity of establishing a lead, such as AI, robotics, autonomous vehicles and advanced industrial equipment. Although the number of European AI start-ups has tripled over the past three years, they are half as likely as start-ups in the US to become ‘unicorns’ (firms valued above €1bn).
“During these difficult times, AI algorithms and data sharing can accelerate the process of creating a vaccine and a cure”
To achieve a digital single market, we will insist on uniform implementation of legislation in all Member States, creating a larger domestic market for European entrepreneurs and contributing to the creation of EU technological champions capable of competing globally. I intend to focus on the horizontal and technologically neutral framework for the various sectors where AI technologies and robotics will be deployed.
I will continue to stress and support ambitious, long-term research and innovation policies, combining private and public investments. I will also advocate for greater transparency and equality in the diffusion of the benefits stemming from AI.
It is of paramount importance to ensure that any new legislation here does not undermine fundamental rights - particularly non-discrimination and the protection of privacy and personal data - and that it enhances our democracies. We need to strike the right balance between the geopolitical dimension of EU innovations in AI technologies and the protection of citizens’ interests, ultimately aiming at protecting EU jobs and investments.”