A European Union (EU) Strategy for Artificial Intelligence (AI)

The race of the AI is on! That is, in this author’s opinion, the most important trend in the years to come in the context of the upcoming global challenges the world is facing.

We can observe a mixed approach to AI and new technologies. On the one hand we are dealing with strategic, chess like techniques. On the other, a more gambling like attitude similar to those seen in poker games, where players take risks to win, not knowing what tricks other players have up their sleeves.

It is currently believed that “building an AI superpower in the 21st century requires four conditions: lots of data, dedicated entrepreneurs, skilled AI scientists, and a friendly policy environment.” (China’s next step toward its ‘AI future’, 2018). Having this criteria in mind it is easier for us to assess the playing field and see what our strengths and weaknesses are.

In the United States of America, both Democratic and Republican administrations tend to favour minimal regulations for AI research and businesses in order to enable it to flourish.

“The way I’ve been thinking about the regulatory structure as AI emerges is that, early in a technology, a thousand flowers should bloom. And the government should add a relatively light touch, investing heavily in research and making sure there’s a conversation between basic research and applied research.”(Barack Obama, Neural Nets, Self-Driving Cars, and the Future of the World, 2016)

“REMOVING BARRIERS TO AI INNOVATION: The Trump Administration is enabling the creation of new American industries by removing regulatory barriers to the deployment of AI-powered technologies.” (Artificial Intelligence for the American People, 2018).

China is also investing a lot in AI in order to obtain a breakthrough in this technology and have an edge in the next decades. President Xi Jinping set the goal of spending $150 billion to achieve global leadership in this high-tech area by 2030. China is using AI in order to bolster its political regime and to create new forms of political and social control and engagement (the Social Credit system, etc.), as they have some of the largest data banks in the world as regards their citizens (China’s Brave New World of AI, 2018).

For the EU the story is a little different, as it cannot and should not follow these two models of AI research management. First and foremost they do not suit the European model of balance between the public and private interests. Also, they do not respect the privacy concerns of many European citizens and the tradition of regulation and standardization of the continent.

The question of ethics is of utmost importance and is recognized by a series of think tanks as they analyse the current landscape: “Thus it will be crucial for other jurisdictions, for instance the United States and the EU, to develop regulatory, ethical, and developmental approaches that reflect their own values.” (China’s Plan to ‘Lead’ in AI: Purpose, Prospects, and Problems, 2017).

This seems to be a widespread belief in the business and academic community as all the recommendations point towards the idea of having standards as the EU trademark in the area: “European policymakers can also make better use of the one area where they are world-class—setting standards. Europe’s market of 500m relatively wealthy consumers is still enticing enough that firms will generally comply with EU rules rather than pull out. (….) By imposing common rules, such standards can help the EU’s AI industry flourish. But they could also have a more subtle effect—of making AI from outside the EU more benign.” (AI, EU, go How Europe can improve the development of AI, 2018).

The good news: the European Commission has already recognised that we are behind schedule: “Perhaps overwhelmed by the effort of reconciling many different views and regulatory regimes, Europe has, on balance, proven too slow in adopting and diffusing technological innovations even as much of the rest of the world is accelerating.” Yet this process is not irreversible as “Europe has the fundamentals to lift itself up as a pioneer in the digital world [while] carefully balancing economic, social and environmental objectives.” Realism is required as the hard truth is that on the short term “some will probably gain more than others”. Thus these “times of transition require endurance and resilience, as well as honesty”(Back in the Game. Reclaiming Europe’s Digital Leadership, 2017).

The European Commission put forward a comprehensive European approach to artificial intelligence and robotics in April 2018, which has a three-pronged approach:

1) Boosting financial support and encouraging uptake by public and private sectors.

The EU (public and private sectors) should increase investments in AI research and innovation by at least €20 billion between now and the end of 2020.

2) Preparing for socio-economic changes brought about by AI.

With the dawn of artificial intelligence, many jobs will be created, but others will disappear and most will be transformed. This is why the Commission is encouraging Member States to modernise their education and training systems and support labour market transitions, building on the European Pillar of Social Rights.

3) Ensuring an appropriate ethical and legal framework.

As with any transformative technology, artificial intelligence may raise new ethical and legal questions, related to liability or potentially biased decision making. New technologies should not mean new values. The Commission will present ethical guidelines on AI development by the end of 2018, based on the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights, taking into account principles such as data protection and transparency, and building on the work of the European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies (Artificial intelligence: Commission outlines a European approach to boost investment and set ethical guidelines, 2018).

Romania is also taking active steps towards this process. In addition to supporting EU initiatives, there are plans for increasing the digital competences or to automatize the internal flows and processes of the state institutions. (Governing Programme 2018-2020).

*This article was originally published in the
EIR Newsletter, no. 93 – September 2018.