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European countries to pursue joint AI intiative

Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner in charge of Digital Economy and Society, speaking at the Digital Day 2018 conference in Brussels, Tuesday 10 April, 2018
Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner in charge of Digital Economy and Society, speaking at the Digital Day 2018 conference in Brussels, Tuesday 10 April, 2018 Courtesy of European Commission

EU countries on Tuesday agreed to speed up their digital transformation in a bid to bridge the gap with leaders US and China. But fears remain that this rapid advance in artificial intelligence could put jobs at risk.


"I don’t want to see a Minority report society where people don't own their future anymore," Roberto Viola, Director General of the European Commission, told RFI Tuesday, following a declaration by 25 EU countries to cooperate on artificial intelligence.

"Because if a machine can tell you whether you can access credit, go to school, or have a job, this is a society that we don't want."

But Europe does want to embrace the technological changes which are sweeping through our world right now, starting with artificial intelligence(AI).

What is AI?

From automated driving to healthcare, artificial intelligence has become more prominent in our daily lives, but it's not a new concept.

It involves developing computer programs or algorithms to complete tasks which would otherwise require human intelligence. And there have been varying forms of machine learning for decades now.

What is new however, is "the way data is being used to expand the learning dynamic, which has helped artificial intelligence to improve its capability," Shahram Alijani, a professor of digital strategy at Neoma business school, told RFI.

The progress of AI is especially true in the domain of robotics. As robots powered by artificial intelligence become increasingly sophisticated and capable, they're being snapped up by big banks like HSBC to spot money laundering.

Data privacy

"Technology is a very necessary ingredient of the way we transact today, so data is very important" he says, as more companies integrate digital technology into all areas of their business model," Alijani added.

"We just have to be careful that it’s not being laundered and used for purposes other than what we call meaningful and constructive," he insists, amid fears over loss of privacy.

The tech sector is currently reeling from a data scandal that saw US-British political research firm Cambridge Analytica harvest personal information on 87 million users from Facebook.

"To ensure that technology really benefits everyone and is not becoming this danger that is messing up people's lives, we need to build and test tools that give people an overview of what their data is," Valerie Mocker, who heads the European Digital Policy at the Nesta foundation in the UK, said.

AI Healthcare

Those concerns don't appear to have dampened Europe's appetite for a digital future.

"This is a story about cars getting safer, roads being much more secure and diagnoses in hospitals getting more precise," says Roberto Viola of the EU Commission.

European health research is likely to get a boost from artificial intelligence after thirteen EU countries announced that they would be teaming up to deliver cross-border access to their genomic information.

This means that "certain illnesses that today can’t be cured will be [curable] tomorrow," comments Viola.

In the UK, Mocker says the medical industry is already benefitting from AI healthcare through Apps like GoodSAM, an App integrated into ambulance systems across the country to identify registered first aiders in a local vicinity.

"This App can really save ten thousands of lives each year, and is one example of a great technological solution," she says.

New world

For Shahram Alijani, the question is not so much whether a digital transformation is good or bad, but how to create a system of governance to control its use.

"It must bring together all of the various stake holders involved in the process, so they have a sense of what needs to be done, what type of data needs to be accessed freely or not used at all," he insists.

"We are at the cusp of a new world, where the pace of data exchange is accelerating."

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