The first Stakeholder Summit on Artificial Intelligence, organised by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) and the European Commission, stressed that the EU must ensure that artificial intelligence is safe, unbiased and in line with European values. The event, which aimed to discuss the next steps to advance the EU strategy on artificial intelligence, took place on 18 June in Brussels.
Artificial intelligence – a high priority for the EU
The key EU policy-makers on artificial intelligence and European stakeholders who gathered for the first stakeholder summit agreed that artificial intelligence held great promise in terms of addressing societal issues, but also raised a number of challenges with regard to privacy, security, labour, education and ethics.
"Artificial intelligence is a technology which does not have to overcome and overwhelm us," said Catelijne Muller, President of the EESC Thematic Study Group on Artificial Intelligence, adding that humans should stay in command of artificial intelligence and be able to determine "if, when and how we want to use these technologies in our daily lives."
Artificial intelligence is one of the main political priorities of the EESC's current presidency. As stressed by Ariane Rodert, President of the Section for the Single Market, Production and Consumption, the EESC is working on two new opinions, one dealing with the consequences of artificial intelligence on work and the other giving input on the Commission's proposed artificial intelligence strategy. These opinions are to be in adopted in September.
Mariya Gabriel, EU Commissioner for the Digital Economy and Society, who gave a keynote speech at the summit, addressed the Commission's efforts to take coordinated measures on artificial intelligence, calling it "a strong political priority".
Last week, the Commission launched the European AI Alliance, which aims to foster stakeholder involvement in the European debate on AI so as to shape the European Commission's policy-making in this area.
"We have entered a new era of technological change and Europe needs to lead this revolution," said Ms Gabriel, who also pointed out that, despite European capacity in research and innovation, the EU is still lagging behind the United States and China in terms of development of artificial intelligence.
In order to accelerate the development of artificial intelligence, the Commission is aiming to raise EUR 20 billion in public and private investment in artificial intelligence by 2020, and EUR 20 billion per year over the following decade.
Mady Delvaux, EP rapporteur on artificial intelligence, drew attention to the challenge of accessibility. "Who is going to have access to this marvellous instrument?" Ms Delvaux asked, adding that Europe had to succeed in sharing out the wealth generated by artificial intelligence. "This is a big challenge, and more complicated than the technology itself."
The EU policy-makers also stressed that it was crucial not to forget that the European approach to artificial intelligence had to be based on fundamental rights and European values.
The ideas and concerns of civil society
Three parallel working groups with representatives of businesses, academia, workers and NGOs gave their input on the three pillars of the EU strategy on artificial intelligence: industrial competitiveness, socio-economic impact, and legal and ethical challenges. Participants stressed the importance of new forms of education, which not only should allow people to understand artificial intelligence better, but also prepare them to adapt to a changing labour market.
The issue of cohesion was brought up as well, and the need to make sure that all regions and Member States should benefit from artificial intelligence equally was emphasised. Finally, participants addressed the issue of human rights and consumer protection, noting that citizens should remain the focus of discussions.
Background: The EESC set up a Study Group on Artificial Intelligence in 2018 in order to ensure continuity in the EESC's work in this field. The EESC adopted its first (own-initiative) opinion on artificial intelligence in May 2017. The Commission's recently presented strategy on artificial intelligence mirrors, to a very large extent, the proposals put forward by the EESC in that first opinion.