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Artificial intelligence: Threats and opportunities

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Artificial intelligence (AI) affects our lives more and more. Learn about the opportunities and threats for security, democracy, businesses and jobs.

Europe's growth and wealth are closely connected to how it will make use of data and connected technologies. AI can make a big difference to our lives and society – for better or worse - and the European Parliament has established a committee to examine the impact of the technology. Below are some key opportunities and threats connected to future applications of AI.

Read more about what artificial intelligence is and how it is used.

175 zettabytes The volume of data produced in the world is expected to grow from 33 zettabytes in 2018 to 175 zettabytes in 2025 (one zettabyte is a thousand billion gigabytes)

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Advantages of AI

EU countries are already strong in digital industry and business-to-business applications. With a high-quality digital infrastructure and a regulatory framework that protects privacy and freedom of speech, the EU could become a global leader in the data economy and its applications.

Benefits of AI for people

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AI could help people with improved health care, safer cars and other transport systems, tailored, cheaper and longer-lasting products and services. It can also facilitate access to information, education and training.  The need for distance learning became more important because of the COVID-19 pandemic. AI can also make workplace safer as robots can be used for dangerous parts of jobs, and open new job positions as AI-driven industries grow and change.

Opportunities of artificial intelligence for businesses

For businesses, AI can enable the development of a new generation of products and services, including in sectors where European companies already have strong positions: green and circular economy, machinery, farming, healthcare, fashion, tourism. It can boost sales, improve machine maintenance, increase production output and quality, improve customer service, as well as save energy.

11-37% Estimated increase of labour productivity related to AI by 2035 (Parliament's Think Tank 2020)

AI opportunities in public services

AI used in public services can reduce costs and offer new possibilities in public transport, education, energy and waste management and could also improve the sustainability of products. In this way AI could contribute to achieving the goals of the EU Green Deal.

1.5-4% Estimate of how much AI could help reduce global greenhouse emissions by 2030 (Parliament's Think Tank 2020)

Strengthening democracy

Democracy could be made stronger by using data-based scrutiny, preventing disinformation and cyber attacks and ensuring access to quality information . AI could also support diversity and openness, for example by mitigating the possibility of prejudice in hiring decisions and using analytical data instead.

AI, security and safety

AI is predicted to be used more in crime prevention and the criminal justice system, as massive data sets could be processed faster, prisoner flight risks assessed more accurately, crime or even terrorist attacks predicted and prevented. It is already used by online platforms to detect and react to unlawful and inappropriate online behaviour.

In military matters, AI can be used for defence and attack strategies in hacking and phishing or to target key systems in cyberwarfare, while the key advantage of autonomous weapon systems is the potential to engage in armed conflict with the reduced risk of physical harm.

Threats and challenges of AI

The increasing reliance on AI systems also poses potential risks.

Underuse and overuse of AI

Underuse of AI is considered as a major threat: missed opportunities for the EU could mean poor implementation of major programmes, such as the EU Green Deal, losing competitive advantage towards other parts of the world, economic stagnation and poorer possibilities for people. Underuse could derive from public and business' mistrust in AI, poor infrastructure, lack of initiative, low investments, or, since AI's machine learning is dependent on data, from fragmented digital markets.

Overuse can also be problematic: investing in AI applications that prove not to be useful or applying AI to tasks for which it is not suited, for example using it to explain complex societal issues.

Liability: Who is responsible for damage caused by AI?

An important challenge is to determine who is responsible for damage caused by an AI-operated device or service: in an accident involving a self-driving car. Should the damage be covered by the owner, the car manufacturer or the programmer?

If the producer was absolutely free of accountability, there might be no incentive to provide good product or service and it could damage people’s trust in the technology; but regulations could also be too strict and stifle innovation.

Threats of AI to fundamental rights and democracy

The results that AI produces depend on how it is designed and what data it uses. Both design and data can be intentionally or unintentionally biased. For example, some important aspects of an issue might not be programmed into the algorithm or might be programmed to reflect and replicate structural biases. In adcition, the use of numbers to represent complex social reality could make the AI seem factual and precise when it isn’t . This is sometimes referred to as mathwashing.

If not done properly, AI could lead to decisions influenced by data on  ethnicity, sex, age when hiring or firing, offering loans, or even in criminal proceedings.

AI could severely affect the right to privacy and data protection. It can be for example used in face recognition equipment or for online tracking and profiling of individuals. In addition, AI enables merging pieces of information a person has given into new data, which can lead to results the person would not expect.

It can also present a threat to democracy; AI has already been blamed for creating online echo chambers based on a person's previous online behaviour, displaying only content a person would like, instead of creating an environment for pluralistic, equally accessible and inclusive public debate. It can even be used to create extremely realistic fake video, audio and images, known as deepfakes, which can present financial risks, harm reputation, and challenge decision making. All of this could lead to separation and polarization in the public sphere and manipulate elections.

AI could also play a role in harming freedom of assembly and protest as it could track and profile individuals linked to certain beliefs or actions.

AI impact on jobs

Use of AI in the workplace is expected to result in the elimination of a large number of jobs. Though AI is also expected to create and make better jobs, education and training will have a crucial role in preventing long-term unemployment and ensure a skilled workforce.

14% of jobs in OECD countries are highly automatable and another 32% could face substantial changes (estimate by Parliament's Think Tank 2020).

 Competition

Amassing information could also lead to distortion of competition as  companies with more information could gain an advantage and effectively eliminate competitors.

Safety and security risks

AI applications that are in physical contact with humans or integrated into the human body could pose safety risks as they may be poorly designed, misused or hacked. Poorly regulated use of AI in weapons could lead to loss of human control over dangerous weapons.

Transparency challenges

Imbalances of access to information could be exploited. For example, based on a person's online behaviour or other data and without their knowledge, an online vendor can use AI to predict someone is willing to pay, or a political campaign can adapt their message. Another transparency issue is that sometimes it can be unclear to people whether they are interacting with AI or a person.

European Commission

NextGenerationEU: European Commission disburses €231 million in pre-financing to Slovenia

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The European Commission has disbursed €231 million to Slovenia in pre-financing, equivalent to 13% of the country's grant allocation under the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF). The pre-financing payment will help to kick-start the implementation of the crucial investment and reform measures outlined in Slovenia's recovery and resilience plan. The Commission will authorise further disbursements based on the implementation of the investments and reforms outlined in Slovenia's recovery and resilience plan.

The country is set to receive €2.5 billion in total, consisting of €1.8bn in grants and €705m in loans, over the lifetime of its plan. Today's disbursement follows the recent successful implementation of the first borrowing operations under NextGenerationEU. By the end of the year, the Commission intends to raise up to a total of €80 billion in long-term funding, to be complemented by short-term EU-Bills, to fund the first planned disbursements to member states under NextGenerationEU.

The RRF is at the heart of NextGenerationEU which will provide €800bn (in current prices) to support investments and reforms across member states. The Slovenian plan is part of the unprecedented EU response to emerge stronger from the COVID-19 crisis, fostering the green and digital transitions and strengthening resilience and cohesion in our societies. A press release is available online.

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Cyprus

NextGenerationEU: European Commission disburses €157 million in pre-financing to Cyprus

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The European Commission has disbursed €157 million to Cyprus in pre-financing, equivalent to 13% of the country's financial allocation under the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF). The pre-financing payment will help to kick-start the implementation of the crucial investment and reform measures outlined in Cyprus' recovery and resilience plan. The Commission will authorise further disbursements based on the implementation of the investments and reforms outlined in Cyprus' recovery and resilience plan.

The country is set to receive €1.2 billion in total over the lifetime of its plan, with €1 billion provided in grants and €200m in loans. Today's disbursement follows the recent successful implementation of the first borrowing operations under NextGenerationEU. By the end of the year, the Commission intends to raise up to a total of €80bn in long-term funding, to be complemented by short-term EU-Bills, to fund the first planned disbursements to member states under NextGenerationEU. Part of NextGenerationEU, the RRF will provide €723.8bn (in current prices) to support investments and reforms across member states.

The Cypriot plan is part of the unprecedented EU response to emerge stronger from the COVID-19 crisis, fostering the green and digital transitions and strengthening resilience and cohesion in our societies. A press release is available online.

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Belgium

EU Cohesion policy: Belgium, Germany, Spain and Italy receive €373 million to support health and social services, SMEs and social inclusion

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The Commission has granted €373 million to five European Social Fund (ESF) and European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) operational programmes (OPs) in Belgium, Germany, Spain and Italy to help the countries with coronavirus emergency response and repair in the framework of REACT-EU. In Belgium, the modification of the Wallonia OP will make available an additional €64.8m for the acquisition of medical equipment for health services and innovation.

The funds will support small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) in developing e-commerce, cybersecurity, websites and online stores, as well as the regional green economy through energy efficiency, protection of the environment, development of smart cities and low-carbon public infrastructures. In Germany, in the Federal State of Hessen, €55.4m will support health-related research infrastructure, diagnostic capacity and innovation in universities and other research institutions as well as research, development and innovation investments in the fields of climate and sustainable development. This amendment will also provide support to SMEs and funds for start-ups through an investment fund.

In Sachsen-Anhalt, €75.7m will facilitate cooperation of SMEs and institutions in research, development and innovation, and provide investments and working capital for micro-enterprises affected by the coronavirus crisis. Moreover, the funds will allow investments in the energy efficiency of enterprises, support digital innovation in SMEs and acquiring digital equipment for schools and cultural institutions. In Italy, the national OP ‘Social Inclusion' will receive €90m to promote the social integration of people experiencing severe material deprivation, homelessness or extreme marginalisation, through ‘Housing First' services that combine the provision of immediate housing with enabling social and employment services.

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In Spain, €87m will be added to the ESF OP for Castilla y León to support the self-employed and workers who had their contracts suspended or reduced due to the crisis. The money will also help hard-hit companies avoid layoffs, especially in the tourism sector. Finally, the funds are needed to allow essential social services to continue in a safe way and to ensure educational continuity throughout the pandemic by hiring additional staff.

REACT-EU is part of NextGenerationEU and provides €50.6bn additional funding (in current prices) to Cohesion policy programmes over the course of 2021 and 2022. Measures focus on supporting labour market resilience, jobs, SMEs and low-income families, as well as setting future-proof foundations for the green and digital transitions and a sustainable socio-economic recovery.

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