The European Union's executive body, the EC, has taken a first pass at drawing up a strategy to respond to the myriad socio-economic challenges around artificial intelligence technology -- including setting out steps intended to boost investment, support education and training, and draw up an ethical and legal framework for steering AI developments by the end of the year. It says it's hoping to be able to announce a "coordinated plan on AI" by the end of 2018, working with the bloc's 28 Member States to get there. "The main aim is to maximise the impact of investment at the EU and national levels, encourage cooperation across the EU, exchange best practices, and define the way forward together, so as to ensure the EU's global competitiveness in this sector," writes the Commission, noting it will also continue to invest in initiatives it views as "key" for AI (specifically name-checking the development of components, systems and chipsets designed to run AI operations; high-performance computers; projects related to quantum technologies; and ongoing work to map the human brain). Commenting on the strategy in a statement, the EC VP for the Digital Single Market Andrus Ansip said: "Without data, we will not make the most of artificial intelligence, high-performance computing and other technological advances. These technologies can help us to improve healthcare and education, transport networks and make energy savings: this is what the smart use of data is all about.
The Commission is proposing a three-pronged approach to increase public and private investment in AI, prepare for socio-economic changes, and ensure an appropriate ethical and legal framework. This follows European leaders' call for a European approach on AI. The EU (public and private sectors) should increase investments in AI research and innovation by at least EUR 20 billion between 2018 and the end of 2020, according to the Commission's official press release. To support these efforts, the Commission is increasing its investment to EUR 1.5 billion for the period 2018-2020 under the Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. This investment is expected to trigger an additional EUR 2.5 billion of funding from existing public-private partnerships, for example on big data and robotics.
On 25 April 2018, a new Communication was published that sets out the European Commission's (EC's) new strategy to boost Europe's artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities and related industries, while at the same time preparing for socioeconomic changes emanating from these emerging technologies. The Communication also poses questions as to whether – and, if so, where and how – the European legal and ethical framework needs to be adapted due to the advent of AI. The EC refers to AI as "systems that show intelligent behaviour by analysing their environment, and performing various tasks with some degree of autonomy to achieve specific goals."1 European leaders are considering AI as a top priority. On 10 April, 24 member states2 and Norway co-signed a Declaration which commits them to working together on AI.
Why is AI important for Europe? As electricity did in the past, AI is transforming our world. AI is at our fingertips, when we translate texts online or use a mobile app to find the best way to go to our next destination. At home, a smart thermostat can reduce energy bills by up to 25% by analysing the habits of the people who live in the house and adjusting the temperature accordingly. In healthcare, algorithms can help dermatologists make better diagnoses: by detecting, for example, 95% of skin cancers by learning from large sets of medical images.
Artificial intelligence (AI) has become an area of strategic importance and a key driver of economic development. It can bring solutions to many societal challenges from treating diseases to minimising the environmental impact of farming. However, socio-economic, legal and ethical impacts have to be carefully addressed. It is essential to join forces in the European Union to stay at the forefront of this technological revolution, to ensure competitiveness and to shape the conditions for its development and use (ensuring respect of European values). The Commission is increasing its annual investments in AI by 70% under the research and innovation programme Horizon 2020.