Wednesday

23rd Jan 2019

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.

... or 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.

What is fate of non-euro EU states after Brexit?

The UK's withdrawal from the EU will heighten fears of marginalisation among the eight member states - Bulgaria, Denmark, Croatia, Poland, Romania, Sweden, Czech Republic and Hungary - that have not adopted the euro.

Salvini and Kaczynski - the new 'axis' powers?

Populists and Eurosceptics are slowly realising that the goal of dismantling the EU is not only unrealistic, costly and unpopular - but also deprives them of valuable opportunities to accumulate political capital and exert influence.

How to troll the European Parliament elections

The May 2019 European parliament elections will take place in a context which make a very promising ground for protest votes and extreme views, aided by bots and algorithms.

News in Brief

  1. EU hits Mastercard with €570m fine
  2. Romanian minister prepares to cancel corruption cases
  3. Sefcovic: no gas supply problems this winter
  4. Report: Commission warning on passport-sale schemes
  5. France summons Italian ambassador over colonial remark
  6. May U-turn on fee for EU nationals in UK
  7. French data watchdog gives Google €50m fine
  8. EU hits Russians with sanctions over Salisbury attack

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General

Latest News

  1. France and Germany hope to revive EU with Aachen treaty
  2. May pushes defeated Brexit deal, offers no Plan B
  3. European Parliament targets 'fake' political groups
  4. What is fate of non-euro EU states after Brexit?
  5. Turkish NBA star takes on Erdogan
  6. 'Meme ban' still on table in EU copyright bill, says MEP
  7. Brexit power grab by MPs hangs over May's 'Plan B'
  8. Polish mayor's funeral marred by Tusk TV dispute

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  2. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  3. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  5. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  6. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  8. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  10. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us