Ensuring Europe innovates while sticking to its values

Article written by Duncan Barry – Executive, MEUSAC
Published in Business Today – 28.01.2020

Striking a balance between making it a point to see that Europe continues to be an engine room for innovation while ensuring European values stick is one of the challenges new European Commission President will be facing after having announced plans to propose legislation on ethical implications of Artificial Intelligence (AI).

New European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced her plans to put forward proposals to legislate on ethical standards tied to AI as one of her commitments in her first 100 days in office. She said the approach will be a coordinated European one.

In her manifesto, ‘A Union that strives for more’, von der Leyen pledged to focus on grasping opportunities from the digital age within safe and ethical boundaries. Apart from the legislation on ethical implications, von der Leyen announced several other points tied to Europe’s digital future, including on 5G, the digital economy and the education agenda. Her announcement followed the publication of a set of guidelines by the EU on AI ethics in April 2019 based on a human-centric approach to AI that is respectful of European values and principles.

Apart from this, the newly elect President aims to refocus the EU into an instrument that advances the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, also in regard to digital development. The challenging new legislation on ethical AI is set to be put forward by the end of her first 100 days in office.

EU’s toughest privacy law – GDPR
Experts in the AI industry have been quoted as saying that with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), we set the pattern for the world and the same would have to happen when it comes to AI since in Europe we start with the human being and it is not about damming up the flow of data; designing effective regulation is challenging – the GDPR, for example, is an uneasy bedfellow with AI, generating significant compliance issues.

It was no easy task introducing GDPR rules like, for instance, in the gaming sector to protect gamers. There was a lot of field work to be done to cover a fast-changing and relatively new sector. Some two years were given to gaming companies to be compliant with the new GDPR rules while Information and Data Protection offices in Member States are hawk-eyed to ensure this sector is adhering to rules with hefty fines for those who don’t. The bigger companies are also bound to employ an officer responsible for GDPR. So, one can only imagine how difficult it will be to legislate on AI. But amid all this, reports are surfacing that in the eyes of critics, enforcement is lacking when it comes to the EU’s toughest privacy law, that of GDPR.

Upholding EU values
On President von der Lyen’s announcement on AI, one must take into account that her announcement indicates that the legislation would be from an ethical aspect in a bid to stick to EU values while keeping in mind that Europe must thrive in technology, so there would be a fine line that cannot be crossed that would hinder Europe’s ongoing initiatives to innovate.

Striking a balance won’t be a walk in the park but the guidelines which are likely to be turned into regulation are surely there to protect European citizens from any unethical implications that may come about as a result of AI, amid concerns that regulation could damage competitiveness of companies developing AI in Europe. Some experts are almost sure the latter would happen.

The idea behind updating the existing legal framework, which already exists in terms of other legal requirements tied to new technologies is to address concerns by Europeans about AI’s societal impact, like for instance, a revolutionised facial recognition system.

‘EU needs rules that ethically support human decision-making’
Margrethe Vestager, European Commission executive vice president for ‘A Europe Fit for a Digital Age’ had said that the EU needs rules that ensure AI is used ethically to support human decision-making, rather than undermining it. She echoed von der Leyen’s pledge, where she vowed to put forward proposals outlining a European approach to AI in the first 100 days of the new Commission.

Worthy of note, in April 2019, the Commission published a report that could offer a preview of the forthcoming proposals. Written by a high-level expert group, Ethics Guidelines for a Trustworthy Artificial Intelligence outlined a framework in which “trustworthy AI” has three components. It should be:

·  Lawful – complying with all applicable laws and regulations;
·  Ethical – ensuring adherence to ethical principles and values; and
·  Robust – both from a technical and social perspective since, even with good intentions, AI systems can cause unintentional harm.

Whatever the case, the EU’s primary interest is to ensure that European values are protected.

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