Deployment of Artificial Intelligence is key to European competitiveness

By Henna Virkkunen, MEP (EPP Group), Member of the ITRE Committee

European industry is still in the first innings of its application of Artificial Intelligence (AI). For thriving in rapidly changing landscape of the digital economy, the industry needs to stay up to speed with technological development. It is our responsibility as policymakers to ensure that the European industry as a whole has the means to succeed in this.

AI deployment is one of the keys to European competitiveness in the digital era. In order to facilitate the uptake of AI in Europe, we need a common European approach to avoid internal market fragmentation. Creating a clear European regulatory framework and long-term legal certainty will increase trust of consumers, public sector and businesses in AI, thus accelerating the uptake of AI throughout different sectors.

The potential is enormous.

According to an estimate by the European Parliamentary Research Service, a common European approach to ethical aspects of AI has the potential to create up to 294.9 billion euros in additional GDP and 4.6 million jobs in the EU by 2030.

However, for turning this estimate into reality, we need to carefully avoid setting excessive red tape that may hinder techno- logical development. In the current discussion, dominated by both perceived and legitimate threats, the risk is to lose track of the bigger picture.

Do not get me wrong: we need rigorous standards based on European values, and we need to address the risks associated with fundamental rights. However, we also need a regulatory environment that encourages innovation and supports the development of new technologies and applications. These two goals do not need to contradict but they must be in balance. Over-regulation, even when based on good intentions, will disadvantage the European industry in a way that will be hard to fix later on.

The uptake of AI does not require a regulatory revolution, but rather careful revisions of existing rules complemented with new initiatives. Sector specific regulation for the broad range of AI applications would be preferable, but also a horizontal legal framework based on common principles seems necessary for filling in the gaps, ensuring a common approach across the EU and boosting digital innovation with consistent and uniform rules.

The current digital policy discussion revolves around the much-awaited upcoming Commission legislative initiatives, especially with the ones concerning data.

We need to create the necessary framework to facilitate cross-border data use and data sharing, as well as enhance access to public sector data. The upcoming legislative initiatives should cover interoperability, sharing, access and portability of data.

In addition to new legislative tools, we must carefully examine how our existing rules relate to the technological developments. As of now, there is a clear tension between the traditional data protection principles – such as purpose limitation, data minimisation, special treatment of sensitive data, limitation on automated decisions – and the full deployment of AI. Changes to the civil liability framework are necessary, but there is no need to re- invent the wheel. The existing framework already answers many of the questions posed by technological developments.

In addition to addressing contemporary questions, we should take a close look at what to expect next. If we think of the classification of three to four waves of AI, we should ask ourselves are we still too focused on the second wave and not thinking ahead enough?

AI technologies today concern mainly deep learning and statistical, big data approaches to AI.

Instead of enormous sets of training data, Third Wave AI systems will learn from descriptive and contextual model.

This will reduce the dependency on large data sets, but raise different complex societal and regulatory questions, which we need to address via dynamic legal mechanisms. It is a big challenge to create a framework that will respond to the third and fourth waves of AI. So far we have only scratched the surface of this discussion.

As Europeans, we can and must lead in the field of AI. Our strategic position, which puts European values at the heart of our approach, is the right one. However, faced with inter- national competition from the likes of China, Russia and the United States, we need to strike the right balance that fosters innovation, competitiveness, and European leadership in the field of AI. If we succeed in finding the balance, we can use AI to bring unimaginable benefits to the world at large, creating better, safer and more sustainable futures.