In the words of the late Stephen Hawking, ‘AI [Artificial Intelligence] could be the biggest event in the history of our civilisation. Or the worst. We just don’t know.’
As the world stands at the cusp of this transformative technology, much is at stake. Deployed wisely, AI holds the promise of addressing some of the world’s most intractable challenges, from climate change and poverty to disease. Used in bad faith, it can lead the world on a downward spiral of totalitarianism and war, endangering – according to Hawking – the very survival of humankind itself.
Finding a policy response to what is undoubtedly ‘the next big thing’ is both urgent and challenging. Europe needs an ambitious and rapid deployment strategy, covering both business and public administration. This must go hand in hand with a world-class research and science strategy, as well as an international drive to claim its stake in what is for now a heated race between the United States and China for global dominance. In addition to creating an enabling environment for AI, Europe must use its widely recognised values and principles to build global regulatory norms and frameworks that ensure a human-centric and ethical development of this technology.
Build the environment
Three ingredients have led to the rapid advancement of AI: stronger computational power; more sophisticated algorithms; and higher availability of vast amounts of data. Decisive and concurring action is needed in all three areas to create an enabling AI framework for Europe, while also investing in the accompanying skills and ensuring appropriate safeguards.
Identify Europe’s competitive advantage in AI
Given that machine intelligence and learning is driven by access to large volumes of data, Europe’s practice of data minimisation and high data privacy standards can be seen as a disadvantage against the likes of China, where personal data flows more freely. But in the long run, digital ‘prosperity’ will inevitably have to go hand in hand with citizens’ well-being. This is where Europe can create a competitive edge for itself.
Strengthen Europe’s AI talent base
Not only is it likely that AI will lead to many modernday tasks and jobs being automated, but Europe also faces a major shortage in AI talent. This calls for an urgent and comprehensive upgrade of Europe’s skills base towards interactive, cognitive and non-routine occupations, as well as efficient social safety nets. Skills development must be inclusive and help build resilience to potential downsides of AI.
Prompt a human-centric approach
An augmented society is one where power asymmetries and inequalities are magnified. This is of concern as AI-powered technologies are progressively shaping the infrastructure that underpins many economic and societal activities. Early actions can ensure a humancentric orientation of AI. But this requires high and transparent quality standards – also at global level – and continuous monitoring of AI’s societal impacts. Traditional institutional tools, such as competition policy, will also need updating, alongside new measures.