Sunday

22nd Jul 2018

Column / Brussels Bytes

The EU cannot shape the future of AI with regulation

To cut smoking, the US government taxes tobacco, yet it subsidises tobacco farming.

The EU's approach to AI displays a similar contradiction: it funds AI research while subjecting it to the world's strictest regulations.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... our join as a group

The European Commission recently announced plans to increase that funding, to make more data available for use in AI, and to work with EU member states on a strategy for deploying AI in the European economy.

But at the same time, the EU's new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) puts tight restrictions on uses of AI that involve personal data, and EU policymakers continue to search for additional restrictions on AI to address their remaining fears.

Unlike tobacco, AI has many beneficial uses, and the potential risks depend on how it is developed and used over the long-term.

The irony is that if Europe over-regulates AI now, it will miss its chance for global influence over the technology's future.

The commission does not see a contradiction because it believes that stringent regulation will engender consumer trust in AI. But that reasoning is flawed.

Regulation can help to build confidence in a technology when there is a specific problem with a clear solution. But like a drug, regulation has side effects, is not appropriate in every case, and overdoses of it can be devastating.

AI is still in its early stages, both technically and economically. AI systems can perform a narrow range of tasks quite well, but training algorithms to do anything especially new is difficult, costly, and time-consuming.

The practical uses of AI that exist in the real economy are valuable and encouraging, but they remain peripheral to the activities of most businesses.

AI implications unclear

That means two things.

First, the implications of advanced AI are not yet clear, so neither are the policy measures that would properly address risks.

Second, if the EU adopts more regulations that raise the costs and legal difficulty of using AI at such an early stage, adoption of the technology by firms in Europe will fall even further behind the rest of the world.

That, in turn, will limit Europe's capacity to innovate in practical applications of AI, reduce European competitiveness, and diminish the EU's relevance as a global decision-maker in the long-term future of AI.

To be sure, the commission's recently-published package of data policies will help to make more data available for use in AI.

The package included a proposal to strengthen the Public Sector Information (PSI) Directive, which requires European governments to allow third parties to reuse the data they publish, though the amendments still would not address the core problem of governments not publishing enough data in the first place.

It also included soft-law measures to push academics to make more of their research data available, and to encourage businesses to find ways of sharing more of the valuable data they hold.

More data is good, and so is the commission's intention to boost funding for AI research and to work on a comprehensive strategy with member states. But over-regulation can kill even promising technologies that otherwise have strong government support.

If the EU wants to shape the future of AI, then it should give firms and inventors in Europe the best chance of building and deploying cutting-edge AI systems that the rest of the world will want to adopt.

That will give the EU a much louder voice when it comes to answering questions about safety and ethics, and it will give international partners a reason to work with the EU in finding the right answers.

But if the EU continues to over-regulate AI, its AI systems will fail to compete on a global scale and the technology's long-term future, for better or worse, will be shaped by the United States and China.

Nick Wallace is a Brussels-based senior policy analyst at the Center for Data Innovation. His Brussels Bytes column deals with the digital single market and data-related policy issues in the European Union

Europe's tech race - trying to keep pace with US and China

There is not a single European company among the world's top 10 computer hardware companies. Within the EU, Germany and Sweden rank among world leaders, but Bulgaria and Slovakia among the worst-performing developed nations.

EU must create safe, legal pathways to Europe

As the rapporteur for the European Parliament on an EU regulation on resettlement, my colleagues and I have outlined an effective plan based on solidarity and humanitarian principles.

How the World Cup exposed Russian chauvinism

The suggestion that Russians themselves play a role in the condition of their state today is often dismissed as "xenophobic" or "Russophobic". But if not addressed, the evils of nationalism, chauvinism, and imperialism will continue even after Putin is gone.

How the World Cup exposed Russian chauvinism

The suggestion that Russians themselves play a role in the condition of their state today is often dismissed as "xenophobic" or "Russophobic". But if not addressed, the evils of nationalism, chauvinism, and imperialism will continue even after Putin is gone.

News in Brief

  1. Libyan PM rejects EU migrant camps idea
  2. Italy's Salvini to sue critical anti-mafia writer
  3. EU countries send aircraft to Sweden to help with wildfires
  4. British ex-commissioner's jobs called into question
  5. May to tell EU to drop Irish border 'backstop' idea
  6. Trump threatens EU over Google fine
  7. Spain withdraws arrest warrant for Catalan separatists
  8. EU readies counter-measures on possible US car tariffs

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  2. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  4. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  6. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  8. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  9. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  11. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  12. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  2. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  4. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank
  5. FIFARecycling at the FIFA World Cup in Russia
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  7. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and Reconciliation Is a Process That Takes Decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  8. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up
  9. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOld White Men are Destroying Macedonia by Romanticizing Greece
  10. Counter BalanceControversial EIB-Backed Project Under Fire at European Parliament
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersIncome Inequality Increasing in Nordic Countries
  12. European Jewish CongressEU Leaders to Cease Contact with Mahmoud Abbas Until He Apologizes for Antisemitic Comments

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us