Artificial intelligence will enable a smarter and cleaner Europe

By Mika LINTILÄ, Minister of Economic Affairs, Finland

The European Union is living through turbulent times, and we must remain vigilant in safeguarding the legitimacy of our common project. This underlines the necessity of focusing on policy areas and measures where it is possible to achieve tangible results that support the wellbeing of EU citizens.

Digitalization and the circular economy are major factors in this and are key growth drivers

Digital technologies, big data and advanced analytics enable companies to offer more value to customers through new products, services and business models. At the same time, the challenges of climate change and scarce resources are rapidly changing customer needs. Transparency has become a necessity for any business or public service.

Artificial intelligence (AI) will accelerate the ongoing digital transformation of the economy, society and daily life. It will be a key factor in moving towards a more competitive and sustainable Europe.

Data is today one of the most valuable raw materials, but it is underutilized.
However, with ever greater amounts of data, cheaper processing capacity and more sophisticated algorithms, the long expected breakthrough in AI is in the making.

Digitalization has already fundamentally changed the production of goods. In the future, AI will support decision-making processes in manufacturing and bring consid- erable improvements in raw material, energy and resource efficiency. This efficiency is a cornerstone of our climate and energy policy.

AI will have an even bigger impact on services, both existing and future, including those that we would not yet even recognize. It will bring automation into clearly defined back office tasks and tasks at the customer interface. It will also provide the chance for innovative companies to create cleaner business, for example in transport and energy. In the public sector, AI has massive potential for efficiency gains and better services for citizens.

The take-up of AI throughout society will change the way we live and work.

It will raise fundamental questions that require open dis- cussion. Estimates suggest that between 25% and 40% of existing tasks (not jobs) are such that they could already be automated now. How will AI change the content and amount of work? How will it change education and re-training needs? What are the implications for welfare systems?

In Finland, we are tackling the challenges and opportunities of AI right now. I have established a public-private task force to find answers to the questions mentioned above and to accelerate the use of AI in the public and private sectors. The first set of actions will be ready by the end of September 2017 and new activities will be added regularly after that.

But the challenges and opportunities are global and we need more collaboration within the EU to make sure that AI will benefit all citizens and businesses. AI will create opportunities and challenges in various EU policy priority areas, such as jobs, growth and investments, the digital single market and the energy union and climate. According to a study by Accenture and Frontier Economics, effective use of AI could double the real value added growth rate of many EU countries compared to the baseline scenario.

How can we accelerate the positive and minimize the negative effects of AI in the EU? First, we need a fuller understanding of AI and its potential implications. We also need a common vision that cuts across growth, jobs, single market, energy and climate. We need forward-looking legislation and funding instruments that enable the innovative use of open data, artificial intelligence, digital platforms and ecosystems. And, last but not least, we must make sure that AI has a positive impact on the daily lives of EU citizens and businesses.