In April 2018, 24 Member States and Norway signed a declaration of cooperation on artificial intelligence.
The EU Commission later proposed in its Communication on Artificial Intelligence a three-pronged approach to:
- Increase public and private investment in AI
- Prepare for socio-economic changes, and
- Ensure an appropriate ethical and legal framework
Commissioner Ansip noted:
“Just as the steam engine and electricity did in the past, AI is transforming our world. It presents new challenges that Europe should meet together in order for AI to succeed and work for everyone. We need to invest at least €20 billion by the end of 2020. The Commission is playing its part: today, we are giving a boost to researchers so that they can develop the next generation of AI technologies and applications, and to companies so that they can embrace and incorporate them.”
Now the Commission has appointed 52 experts, including well known Irish AI expert, Professor Barry O’Sullivan, to the new High Level Group on Artificial Intelligence. The Group, consisting of representatives of academia, business, and civil society, will support the implementation of the ideas set out in the Communication. The Group will make recommendations on how to address mid-and long-term challenges and opportunities posed by AI. Draft guidelines will follow by the end of 2018 and will be presented to the Commission at the beginning of 2019.
What does the Communication cover?
Boosting financial support and encouraging uptake by public and private sectors
The Commission is increasing its investment to €1.5 billion for the period 2018-2020 under the Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. This investment is expected to trigger an additional €2.5 billion of funding from existing public-private partnerships, for example on big data and robotics.
Additionally, the European Fund for Strategic Investments is expected to provide companies and start-ups with additional support to invest in AI. The aim of this is to mobilise more than €500 million in total investments by 2020 across a range of key sectors.
The Commission has stated that it will also continue to create an environment that stimulates investment. As data is the raw material for most AI technologies, the Commission is proposing legislation to open up more data for re-use and measures to make data sharing easier. This covers data from public utilities and the environment as well as research and health data.
The overall modest nature of the Commission’s investment and the reliance on public-private partnerships to make up the balance of the €20 billion has received a luke-warm reception from industry.
Preparing for socio-economic changes brought about by AI
The Commission says that it is encouraging Member States to modernise their education and training systems and to support labour market transitions. These elements will build on the European Pillar of Social Rights. It will:
- Support business-education partnerships to attract and keep more AI talent in Europe
- Set up dedicated training schemes with financial support from the European Social Fund
- Support digital skills, competencies in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), entrepreneurship and creativity
In addition, proposals under the EU’s next multiannual financial framework 2021-2027 will include strengthened support for training in advanced digital skills, including AI-specific expertise.
Ensuring an appropriate ethical and legal framework
We are all aware that AI will raise new ethical and legal questions, mainly those related to liability or potentially biased decision-making. It is the Commission’s view that new technologies should not mean new values. It says that it will present ethical guidelines on AI development by the end of 2018, based on the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights. These guidelines will take into account principles such as data protection and transparency, and build on the work of the European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies.
By mid-2019 the Commission will also issue guidance on the interpretation of the Product Liability Directive in light of technological developments, to ensure legal clarity for consumers and producers in case of defective products.
The commitments given by the Commission in its Communication are welcomed by both academia and industry. However, there are some concerns regarding the timing and scope of those commitments. Many are of the view that action is required now and not in 2019. Companies are already deeply involved and invested in machine-learning and other AI development projects. As a result, they are dealing with legal framework issues now, including questions on how to ensure GDPR compliance and accountability in their solutions. In the absence of clear guidance, they will need to set their own approach to the issues identified by the Commission, ie liability and biased decision-making. Because of this lag in legal and ethical guidance, the EU risks a legal vacuum as technology outpaces the legal framework.
The content of this article is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other advice.
Compliments of Mason Hayes & Curran, a member of the EACCNY