A moment to gain momentum – boosting European competitiveness with a joint strategy on Artificial Intelligence

By Peter ALTMAIER, Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy, Germany

The term ‘artificial intelligence’ (AI) was coined in the 1950s, and since then the underlying notion has been capturing the imaginations of people all over the world.

Time and again, the prospect of creating AI spurred on previous generations of researchers, developers and artists, leading them to surpass themselves and yet, what they were aiming for used to remain the stuff of science fiction.

Now this has changed, with machine learning having advanced to a stage where AI is becoming reality and with use cases emerging in virtually all sectors of the economy.

In today’s state-of-the- art factories, machines supervise themselves and ask for maintenance just when it is needed. In logistics, self-driving transport vehicles self-coordinate their tasks.

Service robots assist humans at the assembly line. In the healthcare sector, self- learning software helps organise busy accident and emergency units and supports doctors as they make their diagnoses.

Artificial intelligence means a boost to productivity and growth and it’s an impressive boost: a recent study commissioned by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy found that, over the next five years, AI will add €32 billion to the output of the German manufacturing sector alone.

This figure corresponds to a third of the growth expected to be realised by the sector over that period.

The study confirms what others have also shown: AI is opening up major opportunities for the economy.

At the same time, it is, of course, clear that it is not for government to decree technological progress or innovation.

The car, the aeroplane, the computer, the world wide web and the mobile phone are all examples of inventions that millions of people across the world have embraced, because these inventions have changed their lives for the better.

AI also has the potential to do that. It allows computers and machines to learn from their own experience and that of millions of other devices and to thereby constantly self-optimise.

AI is an underlying innovation that will soon have found its way into all aspects of our economies and lives, forming the basis for assisted systems, autonomous transport systems and personalised healthcare services.

Artificial intelligence is the number-one development, the most important key-enabling technology of our time.

It is therefore hardly surprising that there is a global race for talent, ideas and venture capital, nor that investments in AI technology are exploding. Now that AI is being used in practical applications, the race in research has become a race between economies.

Global claims are being defined and redefined. Countries that have so far lost out in the globalised age now have a chance to benefit and vice versa. We are very clear about the fact that we want to come out on the winning side in this race.

Developing applications for artificial intelligence whether it’s self-driving vehicles, tools for diagnosing cancer, or the next generation of factories  is a key task for both Germany and Europe.

Europe has all it takes to be able to harness AI. We have leading research labs, young talent and we are good at innovating. The digital economy requires us to work even closer together than we used to.

The more we stand together, the more competitive we will be. European companies need the capacity to make large investments, hire the best researchers from all across the world, buy up promising startups and help them thrive, and to ultimately be the first to release innovative applications for daily use to the market and set new trends.

All this requires more insights and knowledge, i.e. research. But even more importantly, it requires the ability to transfer insights and knowledge, to use AI in practice and to access data.

We must not leave these fields to our international competitors.

In my own capacity as Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy I therefore expressly welcome the European Commission’s initiative for greater European activities on artificial intel- ligence. Now that AI is high up on the political agenda, this is the perfect time to seize the moment.

We must now make sure that Europe will remain competitive and at the forefront of international technological developments.

The German Federal Government has also recently adopted a key-points paper setting out a strategy on artificial intelligence. This first-ever strategy on AI in Germany will be presented at the Digital Summit hosted by the Federal Government in December.

It is our firm intention to drive research, development and not least the uptake of AI in Germany and in Europe and to thereby pave the way for future economic growth in Germany and the EU.

We want our strategy to fit in well with the European strategy. We will work closely with our European neighbours as we both develop and then implement it.

Whoever is the driver behind a development will also be able to control it.

We must seize this opportunity for artificial intelligence “Made in Europe” and we must make sure to design it European-style.

We in the EU should work together to ensure that AI is developed to comply with ethical standards. AI will only be justified and accepted if it serves humankind and human dignity.

Who if not we in Europe should develop shared principles ensuring this? We must make sure that protective standards cannot be undermined by automation, that assisted systems must be designed to give humans better working conditions rather than replacing human labour, that data cannot be used in a way that violates people’s privacy.

It short, we must ensure that technology serves mankind and nature.

At the current moment, many people are afraid of artificial intelligence and fear that it will cost them their jobs. The strategy we are working on is designed to prevent this from happening.

In history, technological progress has always meant change to existing professions and the emergence of new ones often better paid. What is important for us is that these jobs must not be created just anywhere, but here.

This is why our German AI strategy will come with a National Strategy for Continuing Training. We very much welcome the fact that the EU has also picked up on this point and made it part of its own strategy.

If, together, we succeed in alleviating concerns and consistently implementing our AI strategies we stand an excellent chance to see that AI can do more than just capture our imagination: it will also change our citizens’ lives for the better and add to their prosperity.