EU Commission releases AI strategy

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Reflecting an ‘open, fair, diverse, democratic and confident’ Europe in development of human-centric artificial intelligence

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19 February 2020 | 0

The European Commission has released a data strategy and the policy options to ensure what it terms “the human-centric development of Artificial Intelligence (AI).”

The commission said that these “ideas and actions” are to provide digital transformation that “works for all,” reflecting openness, fairness, diversity, and confidence, which it says reflect the “best of Europe”.

“It presents a European society,” said the commission statement, “powered by digital solutions that put people first, opens up new opportunities for businesses, and boosts the development of trustworthy technology to foster an open and democratic society and a vibrant and sustainable economy. Digital is a key enabler to fighting climate change and achieving the green transition.”

“Today,” said Ursula von der Leyen, president of the commission, “we are presenting our ambition to shape Europe’s digital future. It covers everything from cyber security to critical infrastructures, digital education to skills, democracy to media. I want that digital Europe reflects the best of Europe – open, fair, diverse, democratic, and confident.”

Ursula von der Leyen, EU Commission President (Image: EuC)

Digital technologies, said the commission, if used with purpose, will benefit citizens and businesses in many ways. Efforts over the next five years, will focus on on three key objectives in digital:

  • Technology that works for people;
  • A fair and competitive economy; and
  • An open, democratic and sustainable society.

Europe will build on its long history of technology, research, innovation and ingenuity, said the commission, and on its strong protection of rights and fundamental values.

“New policies and frameworks will enable Europe to deploy cutting-edge digital technologies and strengthen its cybersecurity capacities. Europe will continue to preserve its open, democratic and sustainable society and digital tools can support these principles. It will develop and pursue its own path to become a globally competitive, value-based and inclusive digital economy and society, while continuing to be an open but rules-based market, and to work closely with its international partners.”

“We want every citizen, every employee, every business to stand a fair chance to reap the benefits of digitalisation,” said Margrethe Vestager, executive vice-president, Europe Fit for the Digital Age. “Whether that means driving more safely or polluting less thanks to connected cars; or even saving lives with AI-driven medical imagery that allows doctors to detect diseases earlier than ever before.”

World leader

The commission said that Europe has all it needs to become a world leader in AI systems that can be safely used and applied.

“We have excellent research centres, secure digital systems and a robust position in robotics as well as competitive manufacturing and services sectors, spanning from automotive to energy, from healthcare to agriculture.”

In the white paper, the commission said it envisages a framework for trustworthy AI, based on excellence and trust. In partnership with the private and the public sector, it said the aim is to mobilise resources along the entire value chain and to create the right incentives to accelerate deployment of AI, including by smaller and medium-sized enterprises. This includes working with member states and the research community, to attract and keep talent. As AI systems can be complex and bear significant risks in certain contexts, building trust is essential. Clear rules need to address high-risk AI systems, said the commission, without putting too much burden on less risky ones. Strict EU rules for consumer protection, to address unfair commercial practices and to protect personal data and privacy, continue to apply.

For high-risk cases, such as in health, policing, or transport, AI systems should be transparent, traceable and guarantee human oversight, said the commission. Authorities should be able to test and certify the data used by algorithms as they check cosmetics, cars or toys. Unbiased data is needed to train high-risk systems to perform properly, and to ensure respect of fundamental rights, in particular non-discrimination. While today, the use of facial recognition for remote biometric identification is generally prohibited and can only be used in exceptional, duly justified and proportionate cases, subject to safeguards and based of EU or national law, the Commission wants to launch a broad debate about which circumstances, if any, might justify such exceptions.

For lower risk AI applications, the commission said it envisages a voluntary labelling scheme if they apply higher standards.

All AI applications are welcome in the European market, the commission said, as long as they comply with EU rules.

Data and value

“Our society is generating a huge wave of industrial and public data, which will transform the way we produce, consume and live,” said Thierry Breton, commissioner, Internal Market. “I want European businesses and our many SMEs to access this data and create value for Europeans – including by developing AI applications. Europe has everything it takes to lead the ‘big data’ race, and preserve its technological sovereignty, industrial leadership and economic competitiveness to the benefit of European consumers.”

The commission will later this year present a Digital Services Act and a European Democracy Action Plan, propose a review of the eIDAS regulation, and strengthen cybersecurity by developing a Joint Cyber Unit. It said Europe will also continue to build alliances with global partners, leveraging its regulatory power, capacity building, diplomacy and finance to promote the European digitalisation model.

The White Paper on AI is open for public consultation until 19 May 2020. The commission said it is also gathering feedback on its data strategy. In light of the input received, the commission will take further action to support the development of trustworthy AI and the data economy.

Industry welcome

The initiative was welcomed by industry commentators.

“By choosing to focus their new AI rules on ethics and transparency, the EU is positioning its AI vision in a way that can help a broad range of established businesses rather than just start-ups, while differentiating itself from the approaches of the US and China,” said Dr Bob De Caux, vice president, AI and RPA at manufacturing industry software vendor IFS.

“In addition, concentrating on transparency does not have to be an innovation killer. Black box approaches such as deep learning are not always appropriate or even necessary for many of the problems facing businesses, so it is encouraging to see a focus on research combining machine learning algorithms with more classic symbolic, human-understandable approaches, which will be very important in industries requiring human oversight such as healthcare,” said Dr De Caux.

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