26th Jan 2021

EU Commission sticks to €20bn AI target, despite Covid

  • Europe will have to increase investment levels significantly in order to compete with the US and China on artificial intelligence (Photo: DARPA)

Europe should still aim at attracting more than €20bn of investment annually in artificial intelligence (AI) over the next decade, despite the difficult economic outlook that the coronavirus pandemic represents, EU commissioner for the digital age, Margrethe Vestager, said on Tuesday (27 October).

"We definitely should not give up this target. We need to increase it if we want Europe to be a leader in enabling trustworthy AI," Vestager told MEPs from the European Parliament's new committee on AI.

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"It is tricky to exactly evaluate the effect of the pandemic, but we need to push and make the best possible use of limited public funds in order for private funds to be invested [in the EU's AI projects]," she added.

EU leaders previously agreed that at least 20 percent of the recovery fund would be made available for the digital transition, including for AI investments. But higher investment levels are needed in order to compete with the US and China.

From Google translate to self-driving cars, AI is expected to witness huge growth in the next years - and some experts suggest that the pandemic will only accelerate the deployment of more AI-based solutions across the globe.

Earlier this year, the commission unveiled its vision for the bloc's AI regulation which is mainly based on establishing new binding requirements for the development and use of "high-risk" applications - considering whether both the sector and the intended use involve a potential risk for citizens when it comes to safety or fundamental rights.

However, Vestager said that the EU executive is considering focussing its legislative proposal, expected in early 2021, only on the risk of "concrete uses" of these technologies since the public consultation revealed that there is a generalised concern about the sectoral approach.

"We say that if this is what the technology is to be used for, then you need to adhere to certain requirements. But only when we find that something fundamental is at stake we will ask data to be accounted for or the algorithm to be explained," Vestager said, adding that these requirements will also create trust in these technologies.

Moreover, the commission also wants to be able to update the list of "high-risk" use-cases as new products might pose risks that today might seem unthinkable.

Speaking about facial recognition, the commissioner said that the bloc's rules for personal data (GDPR) are already "a de facto moratorium" on the use of this technology in public spaces since their use must be proportional and necessary under national legislation.

"These are some of the things that define us as Europeans in contrast to other countries where you see that facial recognition and other technologies are used for the surveillance of citizens," she said.

Meanwhile, Vestager called on the members of the parliament's new AI committee to discuss the bloc's long-term priorities in this field, as well as the numerous sectoral policies of the EU that will have to be adopted.

"If we make the best use of technology what are the things that we should aim for in 2030? This is not only a technical manoeuvre. It is about what kind of society we want to be when we are fully digitalised," she told MEPs.

Last week, MEPs adopted three reports that set the priorities of the parliament to regulate AI in terms of ethical standards, civil liability and intellectual property rights.


Why EU will find it difficult to legislate on AI

The private sector, governments, academia, and civil society have all been calling for ethical guidelines in AI development - but these discussions remain vague, open to interpretation, non-universal, and most importantly, unenforceable.

AI must have human oversight, MEPs recommend

The European Parliament's internal market committee (IMCO) insists humans must remain in control automated decision-making processes, ensuring that people are responsible and able to overrule the outcome of decisions made by computer algorithms.


EU plan on AI: new rules, better taxes

The bloc wants to become a global leader in innovation in the data economy and AI. However, proportional legislation, better data-availability and huge invesment will be needed across the EU to compete with China and the US.

EU rolls out vaccine, as UK-variant spreads

Most EU member states began rolling out the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against Covid-19 on Sunday, as a more contagious variant from the UK begins to spread on the continent.

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