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15th Dec 2019

AI skewed to young, male, and western EU, report warns

  • Findings from LinkedIn indicate that the standard profile of an AI worker in Europe is a young, highly-qualified male working in a western European member state (Photo: European Commission)

A new study published on Tuesday (19 November) by LinkedIn reveals that just three member states - the UK, Germany, and France - are home to half of all the EU's AI talent, raising new demographic concerns for the incoming AI legislation of the new commission.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is an umbrella term to refer to a range of technologies such as software, algorithms, or robots that have analytical capabilities or can perform specific tasks. AI is widely-seen as one of the new technologies that will transform society, especially the labour market.

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"AI will fundamentally change the way we live and work. Therefore, we need to get it right and develop this technology in a way, which ensures the trust and security of our citizens while benefitting our economy," a commission spokesperson told EUobserver.

In the EU, the largest and most well-established companies are likely to become first adopters of AI technologies, such as automotive companies in Germany or finance firms in the UK.

However, the LinkedIn findings suggest that the current market ecosystem for AI in Europe is uneven across both gender and demographic lines.

The EU Commission president-elect Ursula von der Leyen has promised that during the first three months in office, the college of commissioners will put forward legislation for a "coordinated approach on the human and ethical implication of AI".

However, the German NGO Algorithm Watch believes that the commission's fast-track for AI legislation will likely leave many aspects of automated decision-making to one side.

"AI knowledge and technologies have not yet diffused to many segments of the European economy," states the study, adding that the US employs twice as many AI-skilled individuals than the EU, despite its total labour force being just half the size.

AI-talent distribution

Mapping AI workers also indicates an 'East-West divide' among in the EU.

Although central-eastern European countries produce AI graduates, the most qualified leave this region to work in western Europe, where there are higher salaries, the report states.

As a result, half of all Europe's AI workers are based in just three countries: the United Kingdom, France, and Germany - with the UK leading by a significant margin.

The study also suggests that six European countries – Ireland, Finland, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Sweden, and the Netherlands – are leading the EU in attracting or developing AI talent.

Additionally, the research presents that the concentration of AI talent in academia in Spain and Italy may be a symptom of the fact that AI has not yet diffused into the private sector, reflecting a separate 'North-South divide' in Europe.

Gender diversity is once again a pressing issue in the so-called 'STEM' (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths) sectors.

LinkedIn findings indicate that the standard profile of an AI worker in Europe is a young, highly-qualified male working in western European countries.

Only around 16 percent of all AI workers in the EU are women, and despite the variations across the EU the share of women in the AI workforce does not exceed 30 percent in any EU member state.

However, "diverse representation among emerging technology workers is crucial for the sector and especially important for AI products given the potential for bias against members of diverse social, economic, or political groups," the report warns.

Breton in charge

Earlier this year, the commission stressed the need to "boost Europe-made and human-centric artificial intelligence".

According to a commission spokesperson, the policy recommendations and ethics guidelines presented by the high-level expert group on AI, appointed by the commission, are currently being tested and any further steps will be considered in the light of this assessment.

The new commissioner for the internal market portfolio, France's Thierry Breton, will lead the work of the incoming commission on a coordinated European approach to artificial intelligence.

However, his reluctance to create new laws in the next commission's first 100 days was notable during his hearing as commissioner-designate.

"I am not saying we will have regulation on AI in the first 100 days. I won't be the voice of regulation on AI," he told MEPs.

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