Although artificial intelligence (AI) may sound like something in the distant future, it is already a part of our everyday life. AI is used to drive cars, plan daily commutes, make loan decisions in banks, translate texts and identify junk e-mail. Face recognition programmes can recognise us on social media and display advertisements based on our location and browsing history. Algorithms make more and more decisions on our behalf.
The ongoing global technological revolution is transforming both economic structures and the everyday life of people in a major way. The majority of Europeans perceive these changes as positive. 75 percent of Europeans believe that digital development will have a positive impact on the economy and 64 percent believe that it will improve their quality of life.
Robotisation both takes and creates jobs. On the other hand, new technology enables new products and services, which in turn generates new demand, lowers prices and creates new jobs. A great example of this is Germany: its industry has Europe’s highest degree of robotisation, but the lowest unemployment.
The key to a successful transformation of work is to ensure that people are skilled. In addition to basic know-how and digital skills, it is becoming increasingly important to see that everyone has the opportunity to update personal competence throughout their career.
Work will be organized in a new way. It is becoming more project-like and entrepreneurial by nature. Due to this, each Member State needs to reform its labour market, taxation and social security.
Europe can cope with this change only if we substantially increase our investments in research and product development. The USA, Japan and Korea have invested a larger share than Europe of their gross national product in R&D already for a long time. Now China has also overtaken us. This, if anything, should be a wake-up call to everyone.
China has taken on a strong role particularly in the use of AI. It aims to be the leading AI hub in the world. Europe must respond to this challenge from its own starting points.
Luckily European Union is actively working on the topic. Recently, 25 European countries signed a Declaration on cooperation to jointly respond to the challenges posed by AI. This is an important initiative.
The work is divided into three parts: boosting investments, preparing for socio-economic changes and addressing ethical and legal issues. To support the work, the EU Commission appointed a High Level Group of experts.
The European Union has also decided to fund AI research with 1.5 billion euros through the Horizon 2020 programme in 2018–2020. The aim is to achieve 20 billion euros worth of investments per year in the next decade when national and private funding, in addition to EU funding, is included in the calculation.
However, the most demanding task that Europe faces is the formulation of an ethical and legal framework for AI. In China, AI and face recognition is already used in the streets in the identification and surveillance of people. In European democratic societies, this would be out of the question. We wish to maintain a high level of individual privacy and data protection also in the future. Still, we will encounter many difficult ethical questions.
Already two years ago, the European Parliament held a heated debate on the liability of robots. The proposal of the Committee on Legal Affairs on the legal status of robots was rejected as a result of a vote in the Committee.
The Parliament saw that the programmer or manufacturer is always liable, not the robot itself. To guarantee transparency, the Parliament proposed that it should be possible to display the computations of AI systems in a form comprehensible by humans and that advanced robots should be equipped with a ‘black box’, which records data on every transaction carried out by the machine, including the logic that contributed to its decisions.
In the next legislative term more work with robotics and AI is expected. Robotics and artificial intelligence need to be high on the EU agenda and an important concern of the European Parliament.