The European Union is moving fast towards establishing a joint regulatory and policy framework for Europeans to seize the opportunities provided by Artificial Intelligence (AI) and to reinforce Europe's competitiveness in this field.
To this end, in April 2018 the European Commission issued a communication putting forward a European approach to AI. A legally non-binding policy document at the initiative of the Commission, the communication lays out concrete legislative proposals. This action follows the signing of the Declaration of cooperation on Artificial Intelligence by 24 EU Member States and Norway.
In a nutshell, AI is a technology which enables systems to analyse their surroundings and take decisions with some degree of autonomy to attain a certain objective. Machine learning consists in the ability of systems to mimic the cognitive functions of the human brain, and to adapt their behaviour to changing circumstances and carry out tasks for which they have not been explicitly programmed.
The EU's move to regulate AI comes at a time of the emergence of AI as a transformative technology which will increasingly impact every aspect of our lives. AI will bring about tremendous changes to most sectors, including healthcare, transport, manufacturing, finance, agriculture and public administration. These changes will take the shape of both vast opportunities and risks for business and society.
A number of EU Member States have already set out national strategies on AI, or are in the process of doing so. The French AI Strategy, presented in the end of March 2018, notably set the tone for the roll-out of the EU's approach.
The Commission's proposal for a European approach to AI sets out a series of measures, aiming to:
- Increase public and private investment in AI
- Prepare for socio-economic changes
- Establish an ethical and legal framework
The European approach on AI is based on the assumption that fierce international competition, in particular from China and the US, requires the EU to take coordinated action in the global race in AI development. The Commission’s proposed measures aim to maintain the competitiveness of existing European research and industry in the field of AI, particularly in the fields of robotics, transport, healthcare and manufacturing.
Increasing Public And Private Investment in AI
The EU aims to significantly reinforce financial support and encourage public and private sector uptake on AI. To this end, the Commission announced the following actions:
- A target increase in investments by the EU’s public and private sectors in AI research and innovation by at least EUR 20 billion until the end of 2020
- An augmentation of the Commission's own investments to EUR 1.5 billion for the period 2018-2020 under the Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, in order to incentivise additional public and private investments
This way, the Commission expects to trigger additional funding of EUR 2.5 billion from existing public-private partnerships, particularly on big data and robotics.
Moreover, the Commission will:
- Support research and innovation in AI technologies in key sectors such as transport and health
- Strengthen and encourage cooperation amongst AI research centres across Europe, and instigate testing and experimentation
- Support the development of an "AI-on demand platform", aiming to provide all users across the EU, including SMEs, non-tech companies and public administrations, with access to relevant AI resources
The European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) will be used as a vehicle to provide companies and start-ups with additional assistance to invest in AI. Through the EFSI, the Commission aims to mobilise at least EUR 500 million in total investments by 2020 across key sectors. The Commission also pledged to support the creation of an environment which encourages investment.
With most AI technologies being based on data, the Commission proposes legislation to allow the re-use of a greater share of data, and to facilitate data sharing. In particular, the Commission undertakes to:
- Enhance the accessibility and re-usability of public sector information and publicly funded research results
- Encourage the wider availability of (non-personal) privately-held data
- Establish a new support centre for data sharing to provide legal and technical support to public and private stakeholders
Beyond the communication, the Commission has made the following proposals to expand the European data space:
- An updated Directive on the re-use of public sector information, including traffic, economic and financial data or business registers
- Guidance on sharing private sector data, including from industry, in the European data economy
- An updated Recommendation on access to and preservation of scientific information
- A Communication on the digital transformation of health and care (e.g. of genomic and health data)
Establishing an Ethical and Legal Framework
In order to anticipate the far-reaching technological transformations which AI will continue to trigger, the Commission announced that it will present ethical guidelines on the development of AI by the end of 2018. This way, the Commission seeks to respond to the newly arising ethical and legal questions deriving from AI development for our societies. This particularly includes matters of liability and fairness of decision-making.
The Commission announced the establishment of a European AI Alliance by July 2018 to engage all relevant stakeholders, including businesses, researchers, consumer organisations, trade unions, policy-makers and civil society representatives, in the drafting of the ethical guidelines. By mid-2019, the Commission plans to issue guidance on the interpretation of the Product Liability Directive in view of technological innovations. This is to safeguard legal clarity for consumers and producers in case of defective products.
Preparing for Socio-Economic Changes
The European approach on AI seeks to address the fundamental socio-economic developments which AI-based technologies will bring about in our societies. The approach takes into account the prospect that the rise of AI will both create new jobs and will lead to the transformation of most, while a large number of more traditional jobs will cease to exist. In particular, the Commission will undertake the following actions:
- To encourage Member States (which are responsible for labour and education policies) to modernise their education and professional training systems
- To support transitions in Member States' labour markets and foresee skills mismatches
- To support business-education partnerships, in order to attract and keep AI talent in Europe
- To establish dedicated training schemes with financial assistance from the European Social Fund
- To foster digital skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), entrepreneurship and creativity
Proposals for greater support for training in AI-specific expertise will be included in the EU's next multiannual financial framework (2021-2027).
The Way Forward
As the next step in developing the EU regulatory and policy framework for Artificial Intelligence, the European Commission is expected to present a coordinated European plan on AI by the end of 2018.
The Plan will aim to maximise the impact of AI investment at the EU and national levels, and to encourage cooperation and the exchange of best practices amongst Member States. The document will also lay out the next joint steps to be taken to safeguard the EU's competitiveness in the field of AI.
Furthermore, the by issuing the EU guidelines - potentially followed by legislation - on AI ethics, (expected to be published by the Commission by the end of 2018), the Commission will aim to increase consumers' trust in AI-driven products. As a consequence, the EU's action should enable firms to promote their products as safe and underlying human supervision.
Finally, the European Commission has also announced continued investments in initiatives of high relevance to AI. These initiatives include the development of electronic components and systems of elevated efficiency, high-performance computers, microelectronics, and projects on quantum technologies and on the mapping of the human brain.
With the current Commission's term ending in mid-2019, it will be up to the subsequent Commission (2019-2024) to decide on potential binding EU legal framework for AI.
Implications for Business
While it is important to note that the European approach announced by the Commission does not yet constitute a binding legal framework, it does represent a significant first step towards an EU-wide approach to AI.
On the way forward, companies should work closely with policy-makers to jointly seize the opportunities and address the challenges which AI will bring about for both the private and the public sectors.
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