Artificial intelligence in Europe: no one must be left behind

The development of artificial intelligence in Europe should be as broadly inclusive as possible, the EESC says in its assessment of the European Commission's Coordinated Plan on Artificial Intelligence. Policy should ensure that civil society reaps the numerous benefits of AI while minimising risks such as the manipulation of democratic processes.

In its opinion on the European Commission's proposed Coordinated Plan on Artificial Intelligence, the EESC stresses that AI-related policies must engage all social players, including businesses, workers and consumers. This means ensuring the accessibility of data and infrastructure, the availability of user-friendly products and access to knowledge and skills.

Special measures should be taken to increase women's skills in AI and encourage them to take up AI jobs and tasks, she urges, in view of reports that women are lagging behind men in ICT professions in all EU countries (1.5 million women out of a total of 8.9 million in 2018, according to Eurostat figures).

Education systems in Member States must be overhauled to prepare Europe's young people for a world with pervasive AI. Curricula from primary schools to universities need to be reformed to guarantee a strong base in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, as well as in critical thinking. This will help cover the skills demand in Europe, where, according to the Commission, there were 600 000 unfilled vacancies for digital experts in 2018.

At the same time, present-day workers who risk losing their jobs will need lifelong and ongoing learning to upgrade their skills or retrain in new tasks, as AI will likely change the nature of jobs rather than killing them altogether.

The EESC believes that investment in education and training should be a central part of national AI strategies, and also calls for increased EU funds to support reforms.

To make sure society as a whole reaps the numerous benefits of AI, the EESC suggests that the EU adopt the three-pronged framework of sustainable development as a guiding approach: "If AI benefits society – in the spirit of sustainable development – by generating economic prosperity, social well-being and health, as well as environmental gains, it can be acknowledged as 'doing good'", thus overcoming widespread fears about it, says opinion rapporteur Kylä-Harakka-Ruonala. (dm)