Europe’s ambition to set the global regulatory standards for AI

Europe’s ambition to set the global regulatory standards for AI


Modern life sees artificial intelligence (AI) being used for a host of routine activities, from helping commuters beat the traffic, to deciding which binge-worthy series to stream next.

It’s not all trivial though; AI’s rapid development is bringing enormous benefits to society at large by improving healthcare, enhancing education, offering new mobility solutions, increasing the security of citizens and developing new climate-friendly concepts.

With reports indicating that AI applications are expected to contribute nearly $16 trillion to the annual world gross domestic product by 2030, it is no surprise that global competition to develop AI applications is fierce and contentious.

Although lagging behind the US and China, both of which have strong VC-entrepreneur ecosystems, successful consumer platforms and governmental support, Europe is now seeking to claim its slice of the AI cake. Indeed, Europe is home to some significant success factors, such as renowned research centers, innovative startups and a world-leading position in robotics. Still, these do not seem to have been enough to compete with the American and Chinese digital empires.

What would give Europe a competitive edge and help the uptake of AI? The European Commission considers that the introduction of binding legislation on trustworthy AI could be effective in boosting the internal market and gaining a competitive advantage. While AI ethical guidelines have been produced by numerous public and private actors in countries including Japan, Canada, China, Singapore and Australia, there is currently no comprehensive and horizontal legal framework setting binding rules on the development and use of AI systems. By heading up such legislation, the EU could gain a first-mover advantage, becoming a global standard-setter in the area of AI ethics.

Last week the European Commission presented its long-awaited draft proposal for AI regulation that aims to guarantee the safety and fundamental rights of citizens and create an ecosystem of trust, strengthening AI uptake, investment and innovation. The intention is for such regulation to apply to most products, services and tools that feature AI capabilities and are developed or used in the EU. In this way, the EU is hoping to use the carrot of market access to curb the activities of big tech, rather than depending on the stick further down the line.

Relying on its ethical values to become a rule-setter is not something new for Europe. The General Data Protection Regulation, Europe’s flagship regulation on data protection, is recognized as the “gold standard” and has been one of Europe’s most successful regulatory export products.

In the words of Margrethe Vestager, executive vice president of the European Commission for a Europe fit for the Digital Age: “By setting the standards, we can pave the way to ethical technology worldwide and ensure that the EU remains competitive along the way.”

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