European Commission reveals AI and data strategy

The European Commission has unveiled its plans for a European data strategy and policies to ensure that development of artificial intelligence (AI) technology is human-centric.

A key pillar of the plan outlined by EU commissioner Thierry Breton is the creation of a €2 billion European cloud platform alliance.

In addition, the creation of a single market for data is aimed in particular at tapping into the potential of valuable datasets in Europe’s industrial sector and at helping the region in its race to catch up with technological advances in the US and China.

In his introduction of the strategy whitepaper to the European parliament, Breton highlighted the future growth opportunities offered by the growth in the Internet of Things (IoT), with a predicted 500 billion connected devices on the planet by 2030 as a result of the adoption of connected machines and industrial processes.

"Our society is generating a huge wave of industrial and public data, which will transform the way we produce, consume and live," Breton said.

"I want European businesses and our many SMEs to access this data and create value for Europeans – including by developing Artificial Intelligence applications."

He added: "Europe has everything it takes to lead the ‘big data' race, and preserve its technological sovereignty, industrial leadership and economic competitiveness to the benefit of European consumers.”

President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said the overarching data strategy - which will also include a tougher approach to tech giants such as Facebook and Google - would cover “everything from cyber security to critical infrastructures, digital education to skills, democracy to media”.

The commission’s objectives for digital Europe include ensuring that digital delivers technology that works for consumers, a fair and competitive economy and an open, democratic and sustainable society.

The whitepaper envisages a framework for trustworthy AI, built in partnership with the private and the public sector to mobilise resources along the entire value chain and to create the right incentives to accelerate deployment of AI.

“Clear rules need to address high-risk AI systems without putting too much burden on less risky ones,” read a statement. “Strict EU rules for consumer protection, to address unfair commercial practices and to protect personal data and privacy, continue to apply.”

For high-risk cases, such as in health, policing, or transport, AI systems should be transparent, traceable and guarantee human oversight, the commission noted, with authorities able to test and certify the data used by algorithms as they check cosmetics, cars or toys.

“While today, the use of facial recognition for remote biometric identification is generally prohibited and can only be used in exceptional, duly justified and proportionate cases, subject to safeguards and based of EU or national law, the commission wants to launch a broad debate about which circumstances, if any, might justify such exceptions.”

For lower risk AI applications, the commission suggested a voluntary labelling scheme if they apply higher standards.

Finally, the commission will launch sectoral specific actions, to build European data spaces in for instance industrial manufacturing, the green deal, mobility or health.

As set out in the strategy, the commission will present later this year a Digital Services Act and a European Democracy Action Plan, propose a review of the eIDAS regulation, and strengthen cyber security by developing a Joint Cyber Unit.

The AI whitepaper is open for public consultation until 19 May.

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