Realizing the potential of artificial intelligence via an EU-wide AI plan

By Margarete SCHRAMBÖCK, Federal Ministry for Digital and Economic Affairs, Austria

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a highly relevant topic that is very important for the future of the EU.

The potential of this technology is virtually unlimited, allowing a broad range of applications. In addition, AI is closely connected to other essential strategic topics such as education, work, health and digitalisation.

To remain competitive in this area, administrations must establish and maintain close contacts with academia and industry, and close cooperation between member states shall facilitate the exchange of knowledge about AI throughout Europe.

On a European Level, the High Level Group on Artificial Intelligence, the AI Alliance, and the High Level Member State Group are important means to foster AI and to establish common priorities for a coordinated AI plan.

Just recently has the European Council in its Conclusion invited the Commission to work with Member States on a coordinated plan on Artificial Intelligence, building on its recent communication.

For these reasons, AI is also an important focus of the Austrian Ministry for Digital and Economic Affairs during Austria’s EU presidency.

In addition, the Ministry for Transport, Innovation and Technology has installed a council, “Robotics and AI“. This fall, the group will issue a whitebook on these topics.

In particular, 3 areas appear to be especially important in the immediate future:

Healthcare: AI solutions are making healthcare more efficient, improving quality of care, and providing advances in the way humans diagnose and treat health conditions, for example image based diagnostics, data-based diagnosis support (predictive diagnoses), detection of pandemics, etc.,

Automotive industry: Europe’s automotive industry could benefit from the development of assistant driving systems like driverless cars and driver-assist features.

Manufacturing: AI solutions can help Europe’s robotics industries to increase their world leading position by the optimization of supply chain, production and logistics; enhance demand-driven manufacturing (smart production)

We consider human values and principles a fundamental basis for the development of AI systems.

Europe should take the lead in developing ethical codes and frameworks for AI, and exploit its potential for the good of society as a whole.

We believe that merging sensor technologies, Big Data and intelligent evaluation procedures will result in new insights and open up new business areas.

However, we stress that the application and dissemination of new technologies always requires the consideration of societal impacts.

From a digitalisation and skills perspective, it is noteworthy that there are specialized programming languages that facilitate the development of AI applications.

I am convinced that such languages must be more widely used to create more competitive IT applications within the administration and also in companies.

I will foster the relevant skills in this area by educational measures, dedicated funding programs and pilot projects to enable innovation by realizing the full potential of AI.

Let us also look beyond Austria’s EU presidency. What can we expect from the more distant future, and what should we focus on?

I classify upcoming AI-related activities into 3 broad areas (which depend on each other and may overlap):

1. Knowledge acquisition

In this phase, we acquire knowledge about AI technologies. We shall learn and teach programming languages that are especially well- suited for the development of AI applications.

We also contribute towards the standardization of such languages by participating in ISO working groups and other technical committees.

We establish and maintain contacts between administration, academia, enterprises, and between EU member states to foster the exchange of knowledge and best practices.

In this phase, we are also evaluating and piloting the first AI applications within the government. This shall benefit citizens, companies and also the administration by improving quality of service and reducing costs.

We accelerate AI- related developments in enterprises by providing the necessary funding and supporting the transfer of knowledge and skills by educational initiatives.

2. Knowledge representation

We create and foster the European Data Economy to gather relevant data of high quality, subject to all pertaining data protection and privacy regulations.

Available data shall be shared as far as admissible, using Open Data principles.

In this phase, we start the formalization of legislation. This means that all laws and regulations shall be represented in a machine-readable way.

Hence, existing regulations will become amenable to automated processing and reasoning. For example, it shall become possible to automatically answer legal questions in so far as they are logical consequences of existing laws and regulations.

3. Automated reasoning

In this phase, we reap the benefits of the preceding knowledge representation work: Using automated reasoning tools, we are now able to detect redundancies in regulations and information obligations.

We are able to automatically simplify and optimise regulations.

In addition, we benefit from self-driving cars, robotic healthcare and geriatric facilities, automated medical diagnoses and operations.

In education, intelligent tutoring systems (ITS) shall play a major role to free teaching personnel from all activities that can be automated.

New laws shall be automatically drafted by taking all existing data into account, and optimising for desirable parameters such as health, wealth and quality of life for all European citizens.