Wednesday

20th Jan 2021

Eight EU states miss artificial intelligence deadline

  • The EU has high hopes for artificial intelligence: 'AI will be the main driver of economic and productivity growth and will contribute to the sustainability and viability of the industrial base in Europe' (Photo: Mike MacKenzie)

At least eight EU member states expect they need more time than originally envisioned to put in place a national strategy on artificial intelligence (AI), EUobserver has learned from diplomatic sources.

The original goal was to have these plans by mid-2019.

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  • Ursula von der Leyen has already said investing in AI would be one of her priorities (Photo: European Parliament)

Now Croatia, Cyprus, Hungary, Slovenia, and Spain expect their final strategies will only be published by the end of 2019.

The Netherlands expected its strategy in September or October, Austria referred to "autumn", while Ireland said it would be done in the final quarter of 2019.

And for an additional six countries it is unclear when exactly their national AI plans will be finished.

However, the mid-2019 target was always a rather 'soft' deadline - it could mean either specifically 1 July, or anywhere between 1 May and 31 August.

And even that deadline was not a fully-binding target.

The Coordinated Plan on the Development and Use of Artificial Intelligence Made in Europe, published by the European Commission last December, merely "encouraged" national governments to have them done by then.

"By mid-2019 all member states are encouraged to put in place - and share with other member states and the commission - national AI strategies or programmes or add AI dimensions in other relevant strategies and programmes outlining investment levels and implementation measures, taking into account this coordinated plan."

Ministers in charge of competitiveness issues reaffirmed the mid-2019 endeavour in February, but also using the weak "encourages member states to put in place..." formulation.

Nevertheless, the national plans were deemed crucial to make the most out of AI.

The coordinated plan said that national AI strategies were needed "to maximise investments, pool important resources such as data, [and] provide a seamless regulatory environment".

The EU plan made grand statements about the promise of AI to tackle societal problems and boost the economy.

"AI will be the main driver of economic and productivity growth and will contribute to the sustainability and viability of the industrial base in Europe. Like the steam engine or electricity in the past, AI is transforming the world," the EU plan said.

"Overall, the ambition is for Europe to become the world-leading region for developing and deploying cutting-edge, ethical and secure AI, promoting a human-centric approach in the global context," it added.

When the coordinated plan was published in December 2018, a commission source, speaking on the condition of anonymity, already told EUobserver that the cautious language was asked for by some member states.

"It was difficult for some to have strong commitments before their national debate is done," the source said.

The EU strategy paper, drafted in cooperation with member states' economy and industry ministries, was partly also drawn up to increase domestic pressure on governments, by giving them a 'European' deadline to cite.

Italy and Poland vague

The EU's two biggest members, France and Germany, already adopted a national AI strategy, in March and November 2018 respectively.

The UK, which is due to leave the EU on 31 October, published an AI 'Sector Deal' in April 2018.

In Italy however, the situation is unclear.

Work has begun, with the launch of a working group last March, but the Italian permanent representation in Brussels did not respond to a question about when the strategy is expected.

A Polish diplomatic source said that their country's strategy would be published "rather soon".

For most EU states still working on their plans, it seemed that both internal and external consultations were the main reason that more time was needed.

That probably has to do with the fact that AI will affect all sectors.

As said in the EU's coordinated plan, the list of challenges which AI is hoped to help solve is "virtually endless".

"Since several ministries/institutions have been involved due to the horizontal character of the issue, I can't give your an exact timeline at this stage," said a diplomatic source from Bulgaria.

Greece was in the "initial stage of developing a national strategy for artificial intelligence", according to the country's permanent representation in Brussels.

"Consultations with all stakeholders involved are currently taking place," it added.

Earlier this year, the Dutch government said that the plan would be ready before the summer, but a spokesman for the ministry of economic affairs told EUobserver that publication was now planned for the end of September or beginning of October.

The Dutch too were still consulting with industry partners.

Malta launched a specific website on AI, saying it wanted to "explore artificial intelligence as a new economic niche".

The Maltese set up an AI task force "made up of entrepreneurs, academics and experts in the field".

"The government's aim is to develop a national AI strategy and put Malta amongst the top 10 nations with a national strategy for artificial intelligence," the website said, although it was unclear what criteria you would use to rank countries with an AI strategy.

Von der Leyen's agenda

The next president of the commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has already stressed investment in AI would be one of her priorities.

"Data and AI are the ingredients for innovation that can help us to find solutions to societal challenges, from health to farming, from security to manufacturing," von der Leyen said in her "agenda for Europe".

"In my first 100 days in office, I will put forward legislation for a coordinated European approach on the human and ethical implications of artificial intelligence," she said.

From Malta to Poland: each EU state to have AI strategy

The European Union unveiled a new plan on artificial intelligence on Friday - which mandates member states to have their own national plans. The authors believe 'like the steam engine or electricity in the past, AI is transforming the world.'

Investigation

'Redacted' - what Google and Microsoft told Mogherini on AI

Is Mogherini's 'Global Tech Panel' just a talking shop, or does it contribute to EU policy? New documents suggest the latter, but give little clue how technology leaders from Microsoft and Google influence new AI strategy.

Europe debates AI - but AI is already here

Experts warn there is a lot of "hype and misunderstanding" surrounding artificial intelligence - but the interest in AI is justified. The future of AI "will be the defining development of the 21st century".

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