18 Jun 2020

[BLOG] Europe’s digital and AI strategy: data is the fuel, trust is the driver

Europe’s artificial intelligence and data strategies will have a lasting impact on our society. Director-General Cecilia Bonefeld-Dahl advocates for an approach built on trust, skills and collaboration to help Europe become a global leader in innovation.

By Cecilia Bonefeld-Dahl, Director-General of DIGITALEUROPE

Back in March, the European Commission published two documents to frame their thinking on some of the most important digital issues of our time. The artificial intelligence (AI) White Paper and the European Data Strategy try to assess if, and how, we should regulate AI, and how we can use data in a more strategic way to boost innovation.

Building on our work in the High-Level Expert Group on AI, over the past few weeks we have gathered the thoughts of the digital sector across Europe.

Laying the foundations for AI excellence

AI is a huge opportunity for Europe. According to McKinsey, it could add 3.6 trillion EUR to EU economic growth by 2030. In sectors ranging from healthcare to manufacturing, it is accelerating innovation, boosting productivity and lowering carbon emissions. These are exciting times!

We see a lot of potential for creating a more fertile environment for AI development in Europe. For one thing, only 10% of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are currently making use of big data. We need to encourage more smaller companies to use AI by giving them access to talent and know-how from larger firms and universities, as well as boosting our digital infrastructure and connectivity.

We also need to revolutionise our educational framework, putting digital skills into school curricula and encouraging upskilling and retraining in the workplace. Companies and public authorities should work together here. A very good example is the Coding Class project in Copenhagen, where the private and public sector teamed up to encourage children to learn coding and develop their own projects through an innovative learning process.

Coding Classes in Denmark

There is no AI without research. We need to better coordinate academia and industry in order to maximise creativity, innovation and risk-taking. Each actor has their own role to play in the technological progress – from discovery to scale-up.

All of this requires money. As most EU countries enter recession in the next months, the Coronavirus recovery package and long-term EU budget become even more crucial. Digital must be front and centre in all of our spending plans if we want to make the most of AI.

Building trust

The benefits above cannot mean that we blindly dismiss any risks. But it is important that we first look at the tools we already have. One thing I do not tire of pointing out is that when it comes to AI, Europeans are better protected than citizens anywhere else. With the GDPR, which turned 2 last month, we have world-beating data protection rules. This comes on top of decades’ worth of consumer protection and health and safety legislation, as well as fundamental rights protecting us from discrimination and harm.

For different sectors – such as healthcare – there also exists specific legislation and oversight bodies. It goes without saying that our focus should be to ensure compliance and enforcement, rather than duplicating and complicating things with an extra layer of bureaucracy.

If deciding on any new legislation, we should therefore have a laser-like focus on the few areas where we need something extra.

No single AI company and use case is alike. This means that companies (and governments) using AI need to have flexible rules in place that can uphold European values whilst taking into account this diversity. That could be in everything from a business-to-business supply chain, or in the use of facial recognition technologies by police agencies.

Harnessing the power of the data economy

AI and the use of data are of course closely linked. You cannot have the former without the latter. The problem with data is that it is often scattered around and stored in different places. This is a particular issue with industrial data, which is owned by the companies that generate it.

The central principle of our response to the Commission’s data strategy is that we need to create a culture of trust and collaboration, which encourages companies to share data with one another.

There are already some great examples of this working in practice. One is the Open Manufacturing Platform, which is bringing together data from companies working in different fields – including two of our members, Microsoft and Bosch – to accelerate innovation for the benefit of all involved.

In order to create more of these cross-industry partnerships we need to keep several principles in mind. One is legal certainty: companies need to be safe in the knowledge they will not fall foul of anti-trust legislation when working with other firms. Another is governance: this should be transparent and open to all, allowing the private sector to have its say.

Finally, as a global leader in manufacturing, industrial data holds huge potential for Europe. In order to reach this potential we need to combine data from a wide range of sources. We also need to keep in mind the international dimension – EU efforts should be based on existing international standards and the work carried by well-established bodies. Now is not the time to close off Europe to the rest of the world, but instead build on our industrial strengths with and open and collaborative approach.

Policy Paper 17 Jun 2020
DIGITALEUROPE's response to the European Commission's AI White Paper consultation
Policy Paper 11 Jun 2020
DIGITALEUROPE’s response to the EU Data strategy consultation
Policy Paper 03 Jun 2020
Post-COVID recovery plan for a stronger digital Europe
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