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EU promotes 'trustworthy' artificial intelligence in new digital roadmap

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen speaks during a press conference on artificial intelligence, 19 February 2020 in Brussels.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen speaks during a press conference on artificial intelligence, 19 February 2020 in Brussels. Photo: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP

The European Union has revealed new strategies for the development of artificial intelligence and data. The European bloc wants to help shape the rules that define the use of AI as well as enable its businesses to catch up with rivals in the United States who have led the charge in facial recognition and self-driving cars.

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“We do have a long history of technological success,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told reporters on Wednesday, but added that the EU wants to further unleash the potential of AI and big data while ensuring that the technology respects individual rights and values.

Von der Leyen acknowledged how AI could help improve people’s daily lives citing examples such as AI-driven precision farming and smart heating systems. “We have a pole position in AI,” the commission president said.

According to Von der Leyen, the amount of data being produced continues to increase and has much “untapped potential”, as she described how the EU would help encourage the sharing of data in research and help trigger investment.

The EU hopes to increase the share of data being stored and processed in Europe so that it corresponds to the bloc’s economic weight, according to an analysis by EUObserver.

Countering evil AI

“Humans were always far better at inventing tools than using them wisely,” said Von der Leyen, quoting Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari who explores advances in AI in his book 21 Lessons for the 21st Century.

The EU chief said she wants European citizens to trust new technology with the bloc promoting a responsible, human-centric approach to AI.

She said that certain sensitive fields such as recruitment, healthcare, transport and law enforcement would be treated with special care. Furthermore, Von der Leyen said a person must always be involved in decision-making and data collected must be free of bias.

Europe has not yet produced an equal to the Silicon Valley giants such as Google, Facebook or Apple who are dominant in the fields of artificial intelligence and big data. And American tech companies will face new restrictions in the EU, according to the Wall Street Journal, describing the European strategy as an effort to “assert ‘digital sovereignty’ from the US and China”.

Nevertheless, the bloc’s policy initiatives in technology have garnered some success with General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) becoming a widely used standard in protecting online data privacy.

The AI roadmap outlined on Wednesday will form the start of a process towards legislation with draft laws expected by the end of the year. The EU’s plans are likely to face fierce lobbying from US tech giants.

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