The EU Commission is proposing a European approach to make the most out of the opportunities offered by artificial intelligence (AI), while addressing the new challenges AI brings. Building on European values, the Commission is proposing a three-pronged approach: increasing public and private investments; preparing for socio-economic changes brought about by AI; and ensuring an appropriate ethical and legal framework.
Boosting the EU’s technological and industrial capacity and AI uptake across the economy
What kind of challenges can AI address? What kind of AI projects will the EU fund?
AI helps us solve many societal challenges from helping doctors make faster and more accurate medical diagnoses to assisting farmers in using fewer pesticides for their crops. It also helps public administrations to provide tailor-made responses to citizens and to decrease the number of traffic accidents. AI can help fight climate change or anticipate cybersecurity threats. The Commission will fund projects to support the use of AI in many applications, from health to transport, and to digitise industry. EU funding will also support projects to improve the performance of AI technology (e.g. the quality of speech recognition).
The Commission will support fundamental research, and also help bring more innovations to the market through the European Innovation Council pilot. Additionally, the Commission will support Member States’ efforts to jointly establish AI research excellence centres across Europe. The goal is to encourage networking and collaboration between the centres, including the exchange of researchers and joint research projects.
The Commission will also support the uptake of AI across Europe, with a toolbox for potential users, focusing on small and medium-sized enterprises, non-tech companies and public administrations. The set of measures will include an EU ‘AI-on-demand platform’ giving advice and easy access to the latest algorithms and expertise; a network of AI-focused Digital Innovation Hubs facilitating testing and experimentation; and industrial data platforms offering high quality datasets. Several priorities have also been identified for the post-2020 multiannual financial framework (such as increased support in fields such as explainable AI to develop AI systems in a way which allows humans to understand the basis of their action or AI systems which need less data).
How will the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) help companies to adopt AI and when?
The European Fund for Strategic Investments will support the development and the uptake of AI, as part of the wider efforts to promote digitisation. The Commission – together with its strategic partner, the European Investment Bank Group – aims to mobilise more than €500 million in total investments in the period 2018-2020 across a range of key sectors. To this end, a thematic investment platform under the EFSI could be set up. In addition, the European Commission and the European Investment Fund have just launched VentureEU, a €2.1 billion Pan-European Venture Capital Fund-of-Funds programme, to boost investment in innovative start-up and scale-up companies across Europe.
What are Digital Innovation Hubs and how will they contribute to the use of AI?
Digital Innovation Hubs are local ecosystems that help companies in their vicinity (especially small and medium-sized enterprises) to take advantage of digital opportunities. They offer expertise on technologies, testing, skills, business models, finance, market intelligence and networking. For example, a small company that produces metal parts for the automotive industry could consult the regional hub and ask for advice on how to improve the manufacturing process with AI. Experts from the hub would then visit the factory, analyse the production process, consult with other AI experts in the network of hubs, make a proposal and then implement it. These activities would be partially financed with EU money.
Preparing for socioeconomic changes
What is the Blueprint for Sectoral cooperation on Skills? Which sectors are targeted?
Europeans should have every opportunity to acquire the skills and knowledge they need and to master new technology. National schemes are essential for providing such up-skilling and training. They can benefit from support by the European Structural and Investment Funds (supporting skills development with €27 billion over the period 2014-2020, out of which the European Social Fund invests €2.3 billion specifically in digital skills) and should also benefit from support from the private sector.
The Blueprint for Sectoral cooperation on Skills identifies skills needed and gaps in a sector and connects with partners that can help address those needs by developing a common European strategy and curricula development. Five sectors were chosen to pilot the Blueprint in 2017 (automotive, maritime technology, space/geo information, textile/leather/clothing/footwear and tourism) and six other sectors have been recently added (additive manufacturing, construction, maritime shipping, paper-based value chain, renewable energy and green technologies and steel industry) with EU funding support of close to €50 million.
What is the Digital Opportunity Traineeship in advanced digital skills for students and recent graduates? How will it support AI?
The Digital Opportunity traineeship initiative will provide cross-border traineeships for up to 6,000 students and recent graduates as of summer 2018. It will give students of all disciplines the opportunity to get hands-on digital experience within companies, in fields demanded where there is a skills gap, and strengthen their ICT skills, in fields such as AI.
In addition to the Digital Opportunity traineeships, the Commission asked all Member States to develop national digital skills strategies by mid-2017 and to set up national coalitions to support their implementation. National Coalitions bring together ICT and ICT-intensive companies, education and training providers, education and employment ministries, public and private employment services, associations, non-profit organisations and social partners, who all develop measures to bring digital skills to all levels of society. Through the Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition the Commission will encourage business-education partnerships for AI.
The European Institute of Innovation & Technology also designs specific programmes at Master and PhD levels to address needs arising from the digital sector and digital transformation. The programmes combine in-depth technical skills with strong innovation and entrepreneurial components. They develop skills linked to data collection techniques, data analysis methods, computer science, electronic engineering, deep learning and image recognition. These are all skills needed in areas of AI applications such as self-driving cars and robotics and image/video identification with applications in security and safety.
Ensuring an appropriate ethical and legal framework
How is the Commission encouraging the transparency of algorithms?
Algorithms are behind more and more decisions that affect our everyday lives such as access to universities, getting a loan, or the selection of filtering of information; transparency is therefore crucial. In several areas, there are already EU rules for algorithmic decisions. Examples include automated decisions based on personal data (General Data Protection Regulation, GDPR) and for high-frequency trading on the stock-market (Markets in Financial Instruments Directive, MiFID II).
Algorithmic transparency will be a topic addressed in the AI ethics guidelines to be developed by the end of the year. The AI ethics guidelines will build on work from various relevant initiatives such as the Algorithmic Awareness Building Project which will address issues related to algorithmic transparency, accountability and fairness.
Algorithmic transparency is not about disclosure of source code as such. It can take different forms, depending on the situation, including meaningful explanation (as required in GDPR), or reporting to the competent authorities (as required in MiFID II).
What is the product liability directive? Why is guidance needed?
The EU has liability rules for defective products. The Product Liability Directive dates from 1985 and strikes a careful balance between protecting consumers and encouraging businesses to market innovative products. The Directive covers a broad range of products and possible scenarios.
In principle, if AI is integrated into a product and a defect can be proven in a product that caused material damage to a person, the producer will be liable to pay compensation.
The actual cause of events that lead to damage or incident is decisive for the attribution of liability. The Commission plans to issue an interpretative guidance clarifying concepts of the Directive in view of the new technologies, building on a first assessment on liability for emerging digital technologies published today.
How does the General Data Protection Regulation apply to AI?
The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) ensures a high standard of personal data protection, including the principles of data protection by design and by default. It has provisions on decision-making based solely on automated processing, including profiling (AI-based systems). In such cases, data subjects have the right to be provided with meaningful information about the logic involved in the decision.
The GDPR also gives individuals the right not to be subject solely to automated decision-making (except in certain situations) such as automatic refusal of an online credit application or e-recruiting practices without any human intervention. Such processing includes profiling that consists of any form of automated processing of personal data evaluating the personal aspects relating to a natural person (AI-based systems), in particular to analyse or predict aspects concerning the data subject’s performance at work, economic situation, health, personal preferences or interests, reliability or behaviour, location or movements, where it produces legal effects concerning him or her or similarly significantly affects him or her.
What will the ethics guidelines be about? What role will the AI Alliance play?
Draft AI ethics guidelines will be developed on the basis of the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights, following a large consultation of stakeholders within the AI Alliance. The draft guidelines will build on the statement published by the European Group of Ethics in Science and New Technologies. They will address issues such as the future of work, fairness, safety, social inclusion, algorithmic transparency, and more broadly, will examine the impact on fundamental rights, including privacy, dignity, consumer protection and non-discrimination.
Given the scale of the challenge associated with AI, the full participation of all actors including businesses, academics, consumer organisations, trade unions, policy makers and representatives of civil society is essential. This is why the Commission wants to bring together a broad community of stakeholders around AI-relevant questions under the European AI Alliance. The Alliance will be set up by July 2018, and AI ethics guidelines will be published by the end of the year.