Artificial intelligence (AI) has become an area of strategic importance and a key driver of economic development. It can bring solutions to many societal challenges from treating diseases to minimising the environmental impact of farming. However, socio-economic, legal and ethical impacts have to be carefully addressed.
It is essential to join forces in the European Union to stay at the forefront of this technology. If developed and used within an ecosystem of excellence and trust, European AI can be globally competitive while at the same time ensuring the respect of European values.
A European approach to Artificial Intelligence
In its Strategy on Artificial Intelligence, the European Commission puts forward three strands that aim to:
- place Europe ahead of technological developments and encourage the uptake of AI by the public and private sectors
- prepare for socio-economic changes brought about by AI;
- ensure an appropriate ethical and legal framework.
The three strands of the AI Strategy go hand in hand with a vision for a European ecosystem of excellence and trust. This vision was presented in a White Paper that proposes:
- measures that will streamline research, foster collaboration between Member States and increase investment into AI development and deployment;
- policy options for a future EU regulatory framework that would determine the types of legal requirements that would apply to relevant actors, with a particular focus on high-risk applications.
As part of its AI Strategy, the Commission has joined forces with all Member States, as well as Norway and Switzerland, to foster the development and use of AI in Europe. Moreover, the Commission aims to coordinate European and national efforts on AI. The Coordinated Plan on AI was published in 2018. The first review of the Plan will take place in the first quarter of 2021.
Industrial, technological and research capacities as well as the uptake of AI technologies across Europe are monitored by the Commission’s Joint Research Center. This work is presented in the AI Watch portal.
Being ahead of technological developments and encouraging uptake by the public and private sectors
The Commission is increasing its annual investments in AI by 70% under the research and innovation programme Horizon 2020 in order to:
- connect and strengthen AI research centres across Europe;
- support the development of an "AI-on-demand platform" that provides access to relevant AI resources in the EU for all users;
- support the development of AI applications in key sectors.
However, this is only a small proportion of total investments, many of which come from Member States and the private sector. The Commission's actions act as the glue linking the individual efforts, with an aim to make a collective solid investment. The expected impact of such an investment is much greater than the sum of its parts. To this end, more actions are foreseen to:
- increase the deployment and uptake of AI and robotics made in Europe by creating world reference large scale testing and experimentation facilities in key strategic sectors and technologies (agri-food, healthcare, manufacturing, smart cities and edge AI);
- build on Public Private Partnerships;
- accelerate public sector AI adoption by supporting public procurement of AI-based systems and helping to transform public procurement processes themselves.
Prepare for socio-economic changes brought about by AI
According to a special report conducted on how AI and automation will transform our world of work, a major shift of economies and all related activities is currently taking place. To be able to manage this transition and make the best out of what technology offers us, we need to review our business models, reorganize tasks and rethink our education systems. This requires:
- a major investment effort in research, education, IT infrastructure and systems to be shared between public budgets and companies;
- a major rethink of education. We should create education aimed at adults, not simply a few retraining sessions scattered over the course of a career. And, we should give young people the capacity to learn rather than feeding them with technical knowledge that can quickly become obsolete.
With this view, the Commission will cooperate with Member States to:
- expand actions aimed at upskilling the existing workforce, also within the context of the Digital Education Action plan 2021-2027.
- explore options to facilitate the mutual recognition and validation of AI
- implement the measures of the Digital Europe Programme related to advanced digital skills.
Specific measures are currently being discussed with the Member States and will be listed in a dedicated paragraph of the updated Coordinated Plan on AI.
Ensure an appropriate ethical and legal framework
The European AI Strategy and the Coordinated Plan put forward trust as a prerequisite to ensure a human-centric approach to AI. In April 2019, the Commission published a Communication on "Building Trust in Human-Centric Artificial Intelligence”, highlighting the key requirements and concept of trustworthy AI, as introduced by the High-Level Expert Group on AI (AI HLEG) in their Ethics Guidelines for Trustworthy AI. These two concepts along with the four deliverables presented by the 52 experts in their two years of mandate have strongly affected the Commission’s vision on AI , as outlined in the most recent AI White Paper.
Next policy and regulatory steps on AI
From 19 February to 14 June 2020, the AI White Paper underwent an open, public consultation process to collect stakeholders’ views on the upcoming policy and regulatory steps on AI.
The consultation attracted 1215 contributions, provided by European citizens, Member States and relevant stakeholders, such as civil society, industry and academics. While 84% of the contributions came from the EU’s 27 Member States, additional answers came from all over the world, including the UK, the US, Switzerland, Norway, Japan, India, Turkey and China.
Contributions submitted through the online survey are available here. A report summarising the quantitative results of the survey is also available here. Following an in depth analysis of the consultation results as well as a detailed impact assessment, the Commission will propose a horizontal regulatory proposal within the first quarter of 2021. It will aim to safeguard fundamental EU values and rights and user safety by subjecting high-risk AI systems to mandatory requirements related to their trustworthiness. For example, regarding human oversight and providing clear information on the capabilities and limitations of AI systems.
Important milestones of the AI Strategy
- First Quarter 2021 – Legislative proposal on AI
- First Quarter 2021 – Updated Coordinated Plan on AI
- December 2020 – Impact Assessment
- October 2020 – 2nd European AI Alliance Assembly
- July 2020 – Inception Impact Assessment
- July 2020 – Public Consultation - White Paper on Artificial Intelligence
- July 2020 – Final Assessment List on Trustworthy AI (ALT AI ) of the AIHLEG
- July 2020 – Sectoral Recommendations of Trustworthy AI of the AIHLEG
- February 2020 – White Paper on AI : a European approach to excellence and trust
- December 2019 – Piloting of Assessment list on Trustworthy AI
- June 2019 – 1st European AI Alliance Assembly
- June 2019 – Policy and Investment recommendations of AI HLEG
- April 2019 – Communication: Building Trust in Human Centric Artificial Intelligence
- April 2019 – Ethics Guidelines for Trustworthy AI
- December 2018 – Coordinated Plan on AI (Communication on “ AI Made in Europe” - Press Release)
- December 2018 – Stakeholder Consultation on draft Ethics Guidelines for Trustworthy AI
- June 2018 – Launch of the European AI Alliance
- June 2018 – Set up of the High Level Expert Group on AI ( AIHLEG )
- March 2018 – Press Release on AI Expert Group and European AI Alliance
- April 2018 – European AI Strategy (Communication: Artificial Intelligence for Europe – Press Release)
- April 2018 – Staff Working Document: Liability for emerging digital technologies
- April 2018 – Declaration of cooperation on Artificial intelligence
Artificial intelligence gives machines the capability to analyse their environment and take decisions with some degree of autonomy to achieve specific goals.
Machine learning denotes the ability of software and computers to learn from their environments or from very large sets of representative data. This enables systems to adapt their behaviour to changing circumstances or to perform tasks for which they have not been explicitly programmed.
To build robust models at the core of AI -based systems, high-quality data is a key factor to improve performances. The proposed regulation on data governance, adopted by the Commission on 25 November 2020, will boost data sharing across sectors and Member States. Moreover, the General Data Protection Regulation ( GDPR ) is a major step for building trust and the Commission wants to move a step forward on ensuring legal clarity in AI -based applications.
To the same regard, the European Commission has welcomed initiatives such as:
- the final Ethics Guidelines for Trustworthy Artificial Intelligence prepared by the High-Level Group on Artificial Intelligence published on 8 April 2019
- the Report on liability for Artificial Intelligence and other emerging technologies prepared by the Expert Group on Liability and New Technologies – New Technologies Formation and published on 21 November 2019
- the Declaration of cooperation on Artificial Intelligence, signed by 25 European countries on 10 April 2018. The declaration builds further on the achievements and investments of the European research and business community in AI and sets out the basis for the Coordinated Plan on AI