Europe steps up focus on regulating AI

The European Commission has launched a new group to support the implementation of the European strategy on artificial intelligence, including contributions to policy development and socio-economic challenges.

The group, which will have 52 members from academia, civil society, as well as industry, will aim to guide the technology world towards a responsible, ethical and profitable rollout of AI, an important pillar in the European efforts to remain relevant in the digital economy of tomorrow.

“Artificial intelligence brings huge potential benefits, but also challenges, and therefore it is essential to involve all actors, including from academia, business, and civil society,” said Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society Mariya Gabriel. “I am confident that, together, we will ensure that AI systems are developed for good and for all, respecting our values and fundamental rights.”

Meeting for the first time on June 27, the group will be headed up by Pekka Ala-Pietilä, Chairman of the Board of packaging company Huhtamaki, media company Sanoma and Netcompany as well as a member of the Supervisory Board of SAP, featuring representatives from various universities and technology heavyweights such as Google, SAP and IBM. The breadth of experience does look suitably comprehensive, though we do worry there is not enough of a presence from the private sector.

In the group, there are 15 representatives from universities, seven consultants or independent experts, eight from associations and five from the government or regulatory space. On the practical side of society, there are seven representatives from enterprise, seven from the technology world and two telcos and Nokia. We feel this is not a helpful representation of the industry, and perhaps more practical aspects of the business world will not be well enough represented.

Another worrying thing about the list is the number of absentees. Amazon, Microsoft and Facebook have not made the cut, while there are zero representatives from Asian companies. Admittedly the work needs to focus on Europe, therefore US and Asian interests will be less of a concern, but companies from these regions will have a much more significant impact on the development of the technology than the vast majority of the people currently in the group. If Europe is going to effectively manage AI, it needs to engage the people who are going to influence the technology.

The European Commission should be applauded in attempting to take a proactive stance on the management and rollout of a critically important, and potentially very dangerous, technology, but we are slightly concerned about the input here.

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