On 18 June, under the umbrella of the Digitising European Industry (DEI) initiative, representatives from the 28 Member States plus Norway and Switzerland met for the first time to discuss the European approach to artificial intelligence (AI). This joint effort builds on the AI Declaration - signed by 27 EU Member States plus Norway - and it follows up the Communication on AI, which foresees the launch of a coordinated plan with Member States on AI.
I was glad to see so many participants from across Europe with such willingness to join forces. Commissioner Gabriel was reassured by the support received to a European approach on Artificial Intelligence.
The meeting proved how committed Member States are to make AI a reality in Europe. I very much welcomed the announcements of national strategies, covering investments from technology to skills and worth more than €3 billion for France, UK, Sweden and Finland alone. And these are just a few examples, as most other countries are also making progress on their own AI initiatives.
However, Europe aims at achieving more than the sum of its parts. This meeting was the first step towards a coordinated plan, for which we identified several priority areas where we need to work together:
1) AI applications need to be championed by all, in academia, industry, services and the public administrations
A coordinated strategy should target key sectors such as health care, finance, agriculture, manufacturing and transport. The use of health data in compliance with the GDPR will play a key role in improving predictive medicine to the benefits of European citizens. In the manufacturing sector there is also a whole ecosystem to be developed to smarten the vast installed base of machine tools with sensors and AI.
2) The development and broad roll-out of AI requires excellence in research and world-class innovation infrastructures, such as the Digital Innovation Hubs
Investing in disruptive research and innovation along a coordinated agenda will be essential for the future of Europe. New ways of collaboration will be needed to test and experiment AI in new applications, and we must build an investor community that triggers higher private investment into AI. Investments will also be needed into testbeds to deploy other enabling technologies such as HPC, 5G, cybersecurity and data platforms.
However, the benefits of AI will not be pervasive if we do not reach out to SME. Working from the business demand, Digital Innovation Hubs have an essential role to play when it comes to approaching and supporting SMEs in their digital transformation. Pioneer Digital Innovation Hubs are working in this direction and the upcoming Digital Europe Programme will reinforce their capacity so that they can do more and all across Europe.
3) Changing work environment, education, training and up-skilling remains a challenge
During the meeting, all participants presented strong ambitions to develop, train, keep and attract the best talents worldwide. Training should not cover only specialist but also all the workforce so that they can seize the digital opportunities and particularly AI. This is, for example, the case of Finland's ambitious objective to train 1% of its population (50.000 people) by 2020 through online courses on AI.
4) Adequate ethical and regulatory frameworks are a precondition to roll-out AI respecting European values
The recently launched Expert Group and its outreach to a broad range of stakeholders through the Alliance on AI will build and echo the ongoing development of ethical standards in several countries such as Finland, UK, Germany or Austria, where the Council for Robotics and AI will publish a White Paper in September during the Austrian Presidency of the Council.
I was very interested in the approach of several countries that instead of launching additional regulations are rather interpreting existing legislation in the light of AI and adopting norms and guidelines for businesses. For example, Estonia has allowed autonomous vehicles on the road with minor adaptations to the road regulations. It is however key that companies further experiment with digital technologies, and for that Member States might need to verify that existing regulations do provide the required legal certainty for them.
The High-Level Forum was an excellent proof that we are all ready to make AI work for Europe. I am grateful that Austria already expressed its willingness to make progress on this joint AI strategy for Europe during the Austrian Presidency of the Council. We will keep working all together towards that goal. I am already looking forward to the next meeting of this High-Level Forum in Helsinki, on 8 October.