Last month, the European Commission (Commission) announced plans to bolster the future of artificial intelligence (AI) across the bloc. In a paper on ‘Artificial Intelligence for Europe’, the Commission proposed a three-pronged approach to: (i) increase public and private investment in AI; (ii) prepare for socio-economic changes; and (iii) ensure an appropriate ethical and legal framework for AI. This blog will look at what AI is and the Commission’s proposed strategy.
What is AI?
The Commission defines AI as “systems that display intelligent behaviour by analysing their environment and taking actions – with some degree of autonomy – to achieve specific goals”. AI can be software-based, in the virtual world (such as image-analysis software, search engines or recognition systems) or embedded in hardware (for example, self-driving cars, Internet of Things applications, and advanced robots).
AI is increasingly prominent in our society and used on a near daily basis by most people. Many AI technologies utilize data to improve their performance and guide automated decision-making. The number of technological and commercial AI applications continues to increase, enabling AI to have a transformative effect on society as a whole.
Increasing Europe’s investment and AI capacity
The Commission announced additional funding for AI-related projects via the Horizon 2020 programme. Both public and private sector entities may apply for funding. The Commission aims for the EU as a whole to invest upwards of €20 billion in AI by the end of 2020. Alongside investment plans, the Commission announced an “AI-on-demand platform” to provide businesses with a single access point to connect with AI resources in Europe (such as algorithms and data repositories). A network of over 400 digital innovation hubs will facilitate access to the platform, which aims to help businesses assess how AI can be integrated into their business models.
Other long-term initiatives include a regulatory sandbox – a mechanism for developing new technology alongside regulators in live scenarios – to facilitate AI-testing adoption across business sectors.
The Commission strikes a positive note about the impact AI will have on both the labour market and society as a whole. The Commission acknowledges that widespread adoption of AI will result in the transformation or redundancy of some jobs and roles. However, new jobs will be created; for example, positions to develop and maintain machine-learning algorithms. The Commission further notes that AI may have a positive impact on worker productivity.
The digital literacy of society on the whole and ‘up-skilling’ opportunities for workers whose jobs could be impacted by AI is another focus for the Commission. The Commission will: (i) support business-education partnerships to attract and keep more AI talent in Europe; (ii) set up dedicated training schemes with financial support from the European Social Fund; and (iii) support digital skills, competencies in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, entrepreneurship and creativity.
Ethical and legal framework
Trust, accountability and a predictable legal environment will be required to ensure the EU remains innovative and competitive in the AI sphere, while retaining a commitment to fundamental rights and safety.
The Commission proposes to establish a European AI Alliance by July 2018, bringing together relevant stakeholders to draft guidelines on AI ethics by the end of 2018. These guidelines will address issues such as algorithmic transparency, security, consumer protection and the embedding of key values into AI solutions.
The Commission will closely follow the application of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the context of AI applications. This will include reviewing legislation and sector rules on AI and the Internet of Things, and examining consumer protection legislation in light of AI’s impact on business to consumer transactions.
The Commission’s next steps are to have a coordinated plan on AI by the end of 2018. The Commission plans to: (i) maximise the impact of AI investments at both EU and member state level; (ii) prepare European Union citizens for the consequences of AI transformation; and (iii) monitor AI-related developments. The Commission’s plans are at an early stage. Companies and individuals interested in AI should carefully monitor the Commission’s future announcements to understand the concrete steps the EU will be taking in this area.