AI: We need to act fast to realise the EU's potential (interview) 

 
 

The EU could set global standards on Artificial Intelligence (AI), but to reap its benefits the rules must come fast and be flexible, said Axel Voss, the MEP responsible for a report on AI.

Axel Voss  

"We have to be aware that AI is of extremely strategic relevance," said Axel Voss (EPP, Germany) in our Facebook live interview. The MEP is guiding the report from the special committee on artificial intelligence in a digital age through the European Parliament.


Acknowledging the technology's importance, the Parliament set up the committee to focus on AI, learn how it might influence the EU economy, find out   about different countries' approaches and come up with suggestions for future legislation.


The draft report, presented to the committee on 9 November 2021, says the EU should focus on AI's enormous potential. Report author Voss said this  technology could play a key role in areas such as climate change, the health sector and EU competitiveness.


Learn more about what AI is and how it is used


Can the EU become a bigger AI player?


The EU is falling behind in the global tech race and if it wants to remain an economic and global power, the report says, it should become a global power in AI. If the EU does not act swiftly and courageously, it will end up becoming a "digital colony" of China, the US and other states and risk losing its political stability, social security and individual liberties, the report says. In addition, emerging technologies could lead to a global power shift away from the Western world.


The EU's failure to commercialise technological innovations means "our best ideas, talent and companies" are going elsewhere, according to the report. Voss warned that the window of opportunity is closing, saying the EU needs to “concentrate, prioritise, invest”.


Europe should concentrate more on business models that would enable the transformation of research into products, ensure a competitive environment for companies and prevent a brain drain.

The importance of data


Data is crucial for the development of AI. "If we think that we can compete in the world without providing data, then we are out," Voss said. "We should be focusing more on how we can provide data, including personal data."


"Too many people think that we can't open GDPR right now," which means a lack of data for EU industry, he said. GDPR sets a global standard, Voss said, "but not with the mind-set that if we have reached a golden standard we can’t change it any longer: you only stay in the first place if you are always improving."


"The big collectors of data are in China or the US. If we do want to do something about this, we have to do something very fast because speed is a question of competition in this area."


Democracy and human rights concerns


The EU is "used to setting standards and combining them with fundamental rights, with core European values. This is what we can deliver and I would also say this is something the world also needs", he said.


Voss believes the EU can mitigate the risks AI can pose to human rights and democracy when misused, as in some authoritarian states, "if we do this pragmatically”.


He warns against an ideological approach. “If we concentrate on combining this technology with our core European values and don’t overburden our industry and our companies, we have a good chance of succeeding."


Learn more about what the Parliament wants regarding AI rules