Twenty-four EU countries sign artificial intelligence pact in bid to compete with US & China
An article published on Euractive on 10 April 2018
Twenty-four EU countries pledged to band together to form a “European approach” to artificial intelligence in a bid to compete with American and Asian tech giants.
Ministers signed a declaration on Tuesday (10 April) saying they will consider putting public research funding into AI, but did not promise a specific amount of dedicated new investments.
All EU member states except for Cyprus, Romania, Croatia and Greece vowed to “modernise national policies” as part of an effort to develop large-scale AI research.
One Commission official said the four EU countries that did not sign were not opposed to the initiative but might still need formal approval before signing. Norway also signed the declaration.
European politicians are scrambling to amp up their work on AI by earmarking public funds and nudging companies to invest in technologies like robotics and medical applications that process huge amounts of data.
The EU’s investment in AI lags behind the US and China, and the bloc’s new initiative could still be hampered by competition between member states, or by their differing positions on regulation.
EU Digital Commissioner Mariya Gabriel will publish a strategy paper on AI on 25 April that she said will outline legal issues that the technology is likely to create, and also address fears about robots replacing jobs. She will not propose binding legislation focused on AI this month, but has not ruled out regulating the technology at a later point.
National governments have made a rush of recent announcements relating to AI. French President Emmanuel Macron was the latest leader to focus on the technology when he revealed a plan last month to pump a total of €1.5 billion in public funding into AI research over the next four years. Macron has also met recently with big tech executives to lure jobs and private investment to France. Facebook already runs an AI research lab in Paris.
In its coalition agreement from February, Germany’s new government committed to setting up its own research unit and a joint AI centre with France.
Gabriel called for EU countries to work more together to compete with bigger competitors in the United States and Asia.
“Member states have a level of excellence in some sectors but they cannot be globally leading in an isolated way if they’re alone. The EU can be a driving force,” she told reporters on the sidelines of a Brussels conference focused on investment in technology and AI on Tuesday.
Gabriel said that competition between member states to attract multinational companies would not threaten the EU’s effort to coordinate national policies and research on AI.
“If there are any disagreements, I believe this is something that can be valuable for the EU,” she said.
In addition to considering changes to national laws and new investment funds in AI, the ministers committed to starting up pan-European research centres.
They also agreed that humans should “remain at the centre of the development, deployment and decision-making of AI” and vowed to “prevent the harmful creation and use of AI applications”.
Ministers who signed the declaration said they want the EU as a whole to compete with the US and China on developing new AI technologies.
Speaking on a panel discussion with other countries’ ministers at the same conference, Mounir Mahjoubi, France’s secretary of state for digital affairs, said that his country’s €1.5 billion investment pledge is not only in France’s interests.
“France wants Europe to be the leader on AI,” Mahjoubi said.