Artificial intelligence (AI) has been developing and broadening rapidly. It has increasingly become over the last years one of the pillars of digital transformation. AI’s influence now entails numerous sectors such as health, education, transport, cybersecurity, or research. AI is not only about our economies, scaling-up effects or efficiency gains. As we are currently witnessing an escalating global race for digital leadership, it has turned into a geopolitical subject with increasingly high stakes.
While lagging behind the tech giants, notably the American and Chinese digital empires, the EU now seeks to take part in the formulation of an international AI approach and of its principles. In this context, the EU is highlighting the importance of strategic partnerships with key actors such as China, Japan and the USA, and stresses the significance of cooperating with regional organizations like the OECD and the Council of Europe. The EU Member States can indeed act as a balancing power between two visions for future AI developments. Critical ethical questions are on the table and an EU definition of AI directions thus can become an alternative to data models driven by state security and control interests like in China, and strongly influenced by the GAFAM interests and other large Internet platforms and industries like in the US. The safeguard of privacy and human rights is indeed one of the core elements of Member States’ and the EU’s digital policy to the benefit of citizens.
The European Union (EU), through new programs, increased funds and a new agenda on the matter, wishes to better address AI challenges and implement a new strategy vis à vis the opportunities Artificial Intelligence represents. Indeed, the recent years have seen the end of inaction and the EU is now catching up with the ‘big giants’. Positive developments include the White Paper on Artificial Intelligence published by the Commission and the set-up of a new Special Committee on Artificial Intelligence in a Digital Age (AIDA) by the European Parliament. The latter recently adopted reports on ethical aspects, civil liability regime and intellectual property rights. I believe this is the right direction for citizens of the European Union.
On top of this, the Covid-19 pandemic has underlined the importance for EU Member States and the European Union in general to boost its investments in several areas in order to remain an epicenter of the geopolitical chessboard and a place for innovation and economic growth.
Concerning economic perspectives, some progress has undeniably been made. Nevertheless, we still need to focus on skills, digital literacy, job creation and to address job losses and people left behind. Digital inequalities are a more important than ever.
Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) are the backbone of the European economy. They are the most challenged when new policies come into force and are a spring for innovation and growth. The EU Member States and institutions have kept this in mind, with plans to accompany SMEs to adapt their procedures, their business models and their ways of working using AI.However, much remains to be done in order to make this shared vision a reality. Most notably, the necessity to have a clear and comprehensive framework is evident. A potentially complex regulatory framework will be much harder to digest for European SMEs, which lack extensive law departments compared to global players. Therefore, further actions are needed to bridge that gap. Digital Innovation Hubs and Regulatory Sandboxes can represent in that regard a positive development, and administrative burden reduction policies should be a priority on our agenda.
Also, I believe it is necessary to provide start-ups and SMEs access with the widest possible range of data and algorithm libraries as the lack of such a possibility is slowing down their development, which may eventually not be fast enough to challenge their international competitors. Available data, together with its usability, accessibility and interoperability, is essential for a « culture of data » to grow in the European Union. The fragmentation of European data has long prevented access to available data, with each Member State tending to work on its own national data plan. This contrasts with China, whose population and country size have early on encouraged cloud and data storage practices.
In addition to SMEs, Artificial Intelligence could also better connect and mutually benefit the public sector. Strengthening collaboration between the public sector and the small and medium enterprises can take many forms. I have for instance proposed a few months ago a pilot project with fellow MEPs establishing the « EU GovTech platform », designed to bring the best out of well-functioning national GovTech frameworks to the benefit of the entire single market. These frameworks enable the aggregation of EU and national public institutions’ demand for modern technologies. This means increasing access of EU’s innovative companies to the public procurement market.
We, as European lawmakers, will require strenuous efforts to deliver innovation-friendly and future-proof Single Market legislation that remains both understandable for citizens and flexible for businesses. This is also our priority in AIDA committee. The environment in which we find ourselves represents an opportunity for lawmakers and national leaders to prove how serious we are in supporting SMEs. This is not only an economic matter, defining the directions we want to lead our economies. These questions are also intrinsically linked to a global scene in which the EU is trying to make a stand. That is why we need to step up our efforts, as AI, its framework and its development in the coming years will undeniably play a part in defining tomorrow’s global order.