Europe and AI — Carnegie report

Photo via Markus Winkler

The report “Europe and AI: Leading, Lagging Behind, or Carving its own way” was published this year by Erik Brattberg, Raluca Csernatoni and Venesa Rugova via think-tank Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Their report is based on objective descriptions and normative suggestions, as well as policy recommendations when it comes to decision-making about artificial intelligence at the EU-level.

The report starts with a summary informing that artificial intelligence is expected to play a significant role in shaping global competitiveness and productivity over the next couple of decades. According to the mentioned researchers, this process will also grant early adopters significant societal, economic, and strategic advantages. Regarding the pace of AI innovation and development, it is stated that the United States and China are both in the driver’s seat while Europe, despite having certain advantages such as a strong industrial base and leading AI research and talent, is punching far below its weight.

Among reasons are the current fragmentation of the EU’s digital market, difficulties in attracting human capital and external investment, and the lack of commercial competitiveness. It is also stated that, in recent years, European leaders have recognised the importance of not lagging behind on AI and have sought to raise their ambitions. Central to the EU’s efforts is the notion of AI that is “made in Europe” and that pays attention to ethical and human-centric considerations, in line with core human rights values and democratic principles.

According to the researchers, vision for AI-enabled technologies could set Europe apart from its global competitors. It could also serve as a key component of increasing the “EU’s digital sovereignty” by ensuring is also required is a reevaluation of European competitiveness in this field in a way that leverages its comparative advantages and preserves its interests in a world where technology is increasingly emerging as a key driver of great-power rivalry. Also, it is stated that EU member states should acknowledge that the number of resources required to keep up with the latest AI developments cannot be met by going it alone and that there is a clear rationale for “a stronger EU-level role and for a more coherent European-wide approach to AI that complements member states’ own actions”.

The report is also based on different policy recommendations. Among them are the following ones:

• complete the EU digital single market

• balance technological sovereignty with global supply chains

• lead on standard-setting and regulations

• and secure citizens’ trust in AI applications

The report states that by 2030, AI could contribute as much as $13 trillion to the global economy, which is a figure that approaches the current annual economic output of China as the world’s second-largest economy. One particular area where the EU has the potential to be instrumental is in shaping the global normative agenda on a “human-centric” approach to AI, by aiming for getting up a framework for an ethics-driven and trustworthy development of AI technology and applications in line with universal values as well as to prepare the groundwork for a global alliance in this domain. It is also stated that the window of opportunity for consolidating a distinctive European approach to AI on the international stage is closing fast and that European policymakers are facing a more competitive global environment.

The report states that the top three players, as measured in terms of a number of AI startups, are the United States with 1,393 startups or 40 per cent of the global total, China with 383 startups(11 per cent), and Israel with 362 startups (11 per cent) and that four European countries are among the top ten where the UK is in fourth place, France is in seventh, Germany is in the eighth, and Sweden is in tenth. Collectively seen, there are 769 AI startups in Europe or 22 per cent of the global total and that if fully completed, the EU:s market would make the EU one of the largest and most valuable digital markets in the world.

The European Commission has taken nonlegislative steps to advance the digital single market strategy, including the Digital Education Action Plan, containing the High-Level Expert Group on AI and the Fintech Action Plan with focus on financial innovation. One current challenge for the EU is the Brexit process since London is Europe’s most important AI hub and reputed research centres such as the Alan Turing Institute. At the same time, it is also stated that European AI researchers enjoy excellent scientific standing, though as many AI journal and conference papers are published per year in China as in Europe.

In overall, despite a steady increase since 2008, Europe still lags behind the United States and China in private investment in AI. For example, in 2016, Europe devoted only between 2.4–3.2 billion euros in investment funds, whereas Asia in total invested 6.5–9.7 billion euros and North America invested in total 12.1–18.6 billion euros.

Part of the report is focusing on the analysis of the EU:s White Paper on Artificial Intelligence from February this year. The report states that the EU’s white paper on AI and any future legislation is likely to influence the global regulatory debate in a similar way as with the data privacy regulations such as the GDPR. Therefore, the EU’s focus on “responsible and safe AI” could give it an edge when it comes to setting ethical and regulatory standards. This is a development taking place within the Fourth Industrial Revolution based on decentralising and digitalising aspects, which according to the report is due to the unprecedented scale, fast convergence, and yet-to-be-discovered the impact of emerging technological breakthroughs. including AI and especially the subfield of machine learning.

The report is also based on the presentation of several national AI-policies and strategies across the union. One aspect that is mentioned is that not all EU-member states have adopted official positions regarding AI, which is regarded as a problem as in relation to EU:s digital single market development.

One example that is more broadly described in the report is France’s approach to AI that was first delineated in 2018 via a government-commissioned report called “For a Meaningful Artificial Intelligence: Toward a French and European Strategy.” This strategic document is presented as a comprehensive and forward-looking approach to AI that emphasises more public research, resources, training, transfers, and innovation in four strategic sectors_ healthcare, the environment, transportation and mobility and defence and security.

It is also stated that France's AI strategy focuses on four major challenges: reinforcing the ecosystem to attract the best talent, developing an open data policy particularly in sectors where the country is already competitive, creating a regulatory and financial framework that favours emerging AI businesses and developing AI regulations with respect to ethics and acceptable standards for citizens. The French strategy also emphasizes ethical considerations related to AI, such as the implications of self-driving cars, and facial/image recognition, as well as inclusivity and diversity such as a goal of reaching a 40 per cent share of female students in “digital subject areas” by 2020.

The report is also focusing on aspects such as public and tax-based investments when it comes to AI-relevant research and development. For example, The AI4EU project is a grant agreement between the European Commission and 79 private-sector and academic institutions in 21 member states — was launched in January 2019. The project aims to mobilise and promote the European AI ecosystem and provide access to essential AI resources for all users in the EU. This 20-million-euro project will run for three years and will try to establish a network of AI knowledge, tools, and research across the EU. Also, the strategic planning process within the EU-budget will focus in particular on the pillar addressing global challenges and European industrial competitiveness, which includes a digital and industry cluster with key digital technologies, AI and robotics, and advanced computing and big data as key areas of intervention.

According to the report, the new European Commission has already demonstrated a strong interest in tackling AI issues and Commission’s president Ursula von der Leyen has called for hard rules governing AI and pledged “to put forward legislation for a coordinated European approach on the human and ethical implications of artificial intelligence” in her first one hundred days in office.

Although the EU has made progress on AI in recent years, most national and EU-level strategies and initiatives are all very recent. According to the researchers, it remains to be seen if they will receive enough financing and whether and how they align and interact, and that more broadly, the approach at the national and EU levels reflects a European desire to develop ethical, human-centric, and trustworthy AI and to become a leader in these areas. The report also states that from the European Commission’s perspective, the brand of “trustworthy AI,” by laying the foundation for ethical guidelines for the creation and use of AI, could become the “silver bullet” in the EU’s strategy to catch up with the United States or China.

For more information from the report, click on the following link for download.

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