AI ‘made in Europe’

The European Commission presented its coordinated plan to foster the development and use of artificial intelligence (AI).


Following the Artificial Intelligence strategy published in April 2018, the European Commission presented its coordinated action plan prepared with member states to foster the development and use of AI in Europe on 7 December (see press release). The plan outlines four joint actions for closer cooperation between EU member states, Norway, Switzerland and the European Commission. These actions will comprise increasing investment, making more data available, fostering talent and ensuring trust, all with the aim to establish Europe as a world leader in cutting edge, ethical and secure AI. Priority areas for the application of AI include healthcare, transport, mobility, security and energy.


Roberto Viola, Director General at the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology (DG CONNECT) said that the development of AI is facing several challenges, it must be ethical by design, explainable e.g. with respect to security issues and keep humans in the loop (human-centric AI). Without excellency and investment, these issues cannot be addressed. This requires joint actions by the European Commission and member countries and builds on Europe’s scientific and industrial strengths.


The action plan outlines four concrete actions:


  1. Maximise investment through partnerships: The European Commission intends to invest at least €7 million from Horizon Europe and the Digital Europe Programme (DEP) into AI, and joint actions will include national AI strategies, a new Public-Private Partnership (PPP) building on existing partnerships on robotics and big data, and a new AI scale-up fund.
  2. Create European data spaces in a number of areas such as manufacturing and energy. The data spaces will aggregate data both for the public sector and for business to business needs and make it available to train AI on a scale that will enable the development of new products and services.
  3. Nurture talent, skills and life-long learning. Examples comprise scholarships for a dedicated Master’s programme and adult education programmes on AI. In addition, the European Commission has established the Expert Group on the Digitisation and the Future of Work.
  4. Develop ethical and trustworthy AI. The design of respective ethics guidelines has been tasked to the High-level Expert Group on artificial intelligence and is expected to be published in March 2019. The group has already released a first draft of the ethics guidelines on 18 December open for comments until 18 January.


The actions will start in 2019 and 2020 and will prepare the ground for activities in the following years. A new AI knowledge service AI watch will monitor the development of AI in Europe. The AI action plan is tightly connected to the Digital Single Market and the legislative proposals on cybersecurity, open data and the next EU budget. Several measures to improve cybersecurity in the EU were provisionally agreed on by Members of the European Parliament and member states on Monday 10 December. The action plan also provides a strategic framework for national AI strategies. EU member countries are encouraged to develop their own strategies based on the European action plan to ensure complementarity and synergies.


Norway and Switzerland are part of the coordinated action plan for AI, because of their longstanding relationship with the EU through research and innovation programmes. Both countries see the development and use of AI as a priority. While Norway has already signed the Declaration of Cooperation, ‘Switzerland is in the process of doing so’ (see Q&A on the coordinated plan). Moreover, both countries are members of the Digitising European Industry Group.


In connection with the coordinated action plan on AI, the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) also published a new report on “Artificial Intelligence: A European Perspective” on 10 December. The study takes stock on the development of AI in the world today and derives options and pitfalls for EU policymakers with respect to the strong competition arising from the US and China. The report suggests that opposed to the ‘AI for profit’ and ‘AI for control’ models operated by the two main competitors, Europe could embrace ‘AI for society’. The secure and ethical by design features, this would call for, are well reflected in the coordinated AI action plan.


Meanwhile, also European AI researchers show concern over brain drain and the raiding of computer science departments in Europe by US tech companies. Machine learning researchers and European industry players have thus teamed up for a new initiative called Ellis. Ellis is a netwwork of multinational artificial intelligence labs across Europe with the aim of giving researchers a reason to stay in Europe and in academia.

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