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AI in the EU: Balancing benefit and control

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When the president of the European Commission made her first speech to the European Parliament in December 2019, she officially recognized 'Artificial Intelligence' as an area of strategic importance for the European Union. Nine months later, addressing once again the European Parliament in her maiden “State of the Union’ speech”, she had moved from spelling out “Artificial Intelligence” to talking in terms of ‘AI’ – so well-known is the technology within the EU bubble now. This is not so surprising when AI is being deployed across most (if not all) sectors of the economy, from disease diagnosis to minimizing the environmental impact of farming, writes Angeliki Dedopoulou, senior manager for EU Public Affairs with Huawei Technologies.

It is true that much work has been done by the European Commission since President Ursula Von der Leyen and her team took office. Already promised in December 2019 was a “legislative proposal” on AI – what was delivered was an AI White Paper in February. While this, admittedly, is not a legislative proposal, it is a document that has kick-started the debate on human and ethical AI, the use of Big Data, and how these technologies can be used to create wealth for society and business.

The Commission’s White Paper emphasizes the importance of establishing a uniform approach to AI across the EU’s 27 member states, where different countries have started to take their own approach to regulation, and thus potentially, are erecting barriers to the EU’s single market. It also, importantly for Huawei, talks about plans to take a risk-based approach to regulating AI.

At Huawei we studied the White Paper with interest, and along with (more than 1,250!) other stakeholders, contributed to the Commission’s public consultation, which closed on 14 June, giving our input and ideas as experts working in this field.

Finding the balance

The main point that we emphasized to the Commission is the need to find the right balance between allowing innovation and ensuring adequate protection for citizens.

In particular, we focused on the need for high-risk applications to be regulated under a clear legal framework, and proposed ideas for what the definition of AI should be. In this regard, we believe the definition of AI should come down to its application, with risk assessments focusing on the intended use of the application and the type of impact resulting from the AI function. If there are detailed assessment lists and procedures in place for companies to make their own self-assessments, then this will reduce the cost of initial risk assessment – which must match sector-specific requirements.

We have recommended that the Commission looks into bringing together consumer organizations, academia, member states, and businesses to assess whether an AI system may qualify as high-risk. There is already an established body set up to deal with these kinds of things – the standing Technical Committee High Risk Systems (TCRAI). We believe this body could assess and evaluate AI systems against high-risk criteria both legally and technically. If this body took some control, combined with a voluntary labelling system, on offer would be a governance model that:

• Considers the entire supply chain;

• sets the right criteria and targets the intended goal of transparency for consumers/businesses;

• incentivizes the responsible development and deployment of AI, and;

• creates an ecosystem of trust.

Outside of the high-risk applications of AI, we have stated to the Commission that the existing legal framework based on fault-based and contractual liability is sufficient – even for state-of-the-art technologies like AI, where there could be a fear that new technology requires new rules. Extra regulation is however, unnecessary; it would be over-burdensome and discourage the adoption of AI.

From what we know of the current thinking within the Commission, it appears that it also plans to take a risk-based approach to regulating AI. Specifically, the Commission proposes focusing in the short-term on “high-risk” AI applications – meaning either high-risk sectors (like healthcare) or in high-risk use (for example whether it produces legal or similarly significant effects on the rights of an individual).

So, what happens next?

The Commission has a lot of work to do in getting through all the consultation responses, taking into account the needs of business, civil society, trade associations, NGOs and others. The additional burden of working through the coronavirus crisis has not helped matters, with the formal response from the Commission now not expected until Q1 2021.

Coronavirus has been a game-changer for technology use in healthcare of course, and will no doubt have an impact on the Commission’s thinking in this area. Terms such as “telemedicine” have been talked about for years, but the crisis has turned virtual consultations into reality – almost overnight.

Beyond healthcare we see AI deployment being continuously rolled out in areas such as farming and in the EU’s efforts to combat climate change. We are proud at Huawei to be part of this continuous digital development in Europe – a region in which and for which we have been working for 20 years. The development of digital skills is at the heart of this, which not only equips future generations with the tools to seize the potential of AI, but will also enable the current workforce to be active and agile in an ever-changing world: there is a need for an inclusive, lifelong learning-based and innovation-driven approach to AI education and training, to help people transition between jobs seamlessly. The job market has been heavily impacted by the crisis, and quick solutions are needed.

As we wait for the Commission’s formal response to the White Paper, what more is there to say about AI in Europe? Better healthcare, safer and cleaner transport, more efficient manufacturing, smart farming and cheaper and more sustainable energy sources: these are just a few of the benefits AI can bring to our societies, and to the EU as a whole. Huawei will work with EU policymakers and will strive to ensure the region gets the balance right: innovation combined with consumer protection.

China

Independent pandemic review panel critical of China and WHO delays

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An independent panel said on Monday (18 January) that Chinese officials could have applied public health measures more forcefully in January to curb the initial COVID-19 outbreak, and criticized the World Health Organization (WHO) for not declaring an international emergency until 30 January, writes .

The experts reviewing the global handling of the pandemic, led by former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark and former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, called for reforms to the Geneva-based United Nations agency.Their interim report was published hours after the WHO’s top emergency expert, Mike Ryan, said that global deaths from COVID-19 were expected to top 100,000 per week “very soon”.

“What is clear to the Panel is that public health measures could have been applied more forcefully by local and national health authorities in China in January,” the report said, referring to the initial outbreak of the new disease in the central city of Wuhan, in Hubei province.

As evidence emerged of human-to-human transmission, “in far too many countries, this signal was ignored”, it added.

Specifically, it questioned why the WHO’s Emergency Committee did not meet until the third week of January and did not declare an international emergency until its second meeting on Jan. 30.

“Although the term pandemic is neither used nor defined in the International Health Regulations (2005), its use does serve to focus attention on the gravity of a health event. It was not until 11 March that WHO used the term,” the report said.

“The global pandemic alert system is not fit for purpose,” it said. “The World Health Organization has been underpowered to do the job.”

Under President Donald Trump, the United States has accused the WHO of being “China-centric”, which the agency denies. European countries led by France and Germany have pushed for addressing the WHO’s shortcomings on funding, governance and legal powers.

The panel called for a “global reset” and said that it would make recommendations in a final report to health ministers from the WHO’s 194 member states in May.

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Huawei

Sweden begins 5G auction despite Huawei protests

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Sweden’s communications regulator began its delayed auction of 5G-suitable frequencies, a move Huawei warned last week would have serious consequences as the vendor still had outstanding legal action contesting its ban.

In a statement, the Swedish Post and Telecom Authority (PTS) said its auction for licences in the 3.5GHz band started today (19 January) with a 2.3GHz sale to follow. It is auctioning 320MHz of 3.5GHz spectrum and 80MHz of 2.3GHz.

The start of the sale comes days after Huawei lost its latest appeal related to the imposition of auction conditions which ban bidding operators using equipment from it or rival ZTE.

Huawei has two other pieces of legal action on the issue outstanding.

In a comment to Mobile World Live issued on 15 January following the failure of its latest appeal, a Huawei representative confirmed its “two main” court cases on the issue were not expected to be ruled on until the end of April.

The company added: “It leads to serious consequences to hold the 5G auction while the conditions for PTS decisions are subject to legal review.”

Sweden’s spectrum auction was originally meant to take place in November 2020, but was postponed after a court suspended the application some of the divisive terms of sale pending a hearing into them.

PTS’ terms were subsequently cleared by the court of appeal, opening the way for the auction to proceeded.

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General

The best of 5G is yet to come  

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Executives from leading mobile operators have urged consumers to be patient with 5G, explaining more advanced capabilities and use cases will become available as the technology evolves.

Speaking at the recent industry conference CES 2021, Drew Blackard, VP of product management at Samsung Electronics America (SEA), told a panel that many current services including video streaming are merely “better on 5G”.

But he added more advanced “only-on-5G experiences” will become mainstream “more and more as the infrastructure develops” and the technology becomes more widely used.

Blackard noted SEA had “done a lot of development with partners to build out what these can look like”, pointing to a collaboration with AT&T to offer AR experiences for sports fans.

Ice Mobility chairman and co-founder Denise Gibson added “there is an element of patience” to realising 5G’s potential.

She said 5G “is a platform that will evolve”, explaining “it’s not solely about” geographic reach, but also provision of advanced capabilities and services on networks and devices.

Blackard added “partnerships are obviously essential”, noting 5G required “a group, an industry to bring that forward. It’s not a single player that can do that”.

Commenting on the issue Abraham Lui, Huawei's Chief Representative to the EU Institutions,  said  "In Europe, the best of 5G is yet to come. As 5G deployment gathers pace across the continent, users will appreciate the benefits of this game-changing technology in the near future".

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