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European strategy for data: What Parliament wants

EU Reporter Correspondent

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Find out how MEPs want to shape the EU's rules for non-personal data sharing to boost innovation and the economy while protecting privacy. Data is at the heart of the EU's digital transformation that is influencing all aspects of society and the economy. It is necessary for the development of artificial intelligence, which is one of the EU's priorities, and presents significant opportunities for innovation, recovery after the Covid-19 crisis and growth, for example in health and green technologies.

Read more about big data opportunities and challenges.

Responding to the European Commission's European Strategy for Data, the Parliament called for legislation focussed on people based on European values of privacy and transparency that will enable Europeans and EU-based companies to benefit from the potential of industrial and public data in a report adopted on 25 March.

The benefits of an EU data economy

MEPs said that the crisis has shown the need for efficient data legislation that will support research and innovation. Large quantities of quality data, notably non-personal - industrial, public, and commercial - already exist in the EU and their full potential is yet to be explored. In the coming years, much more data will be generated. MEPs expect data legislation to help tap into this potential and make data available to European companies, including small and medium-sized enterprises, and researchers.

Enabling data flow between sectors and countries will help European businesses of all sizes to innovate and thrive in Europe and beyond and help establish the EU as a leader in the data economy.

The Commission projects that the data economy in the EU could grow from €301 billion in 2018 to €829 billion in 2025, with the number of data professionals rising from 5.7 to 10.9 million.

Europe's global competitors, such as the US and China, are innovating quickly and applying their ways of data access and use. To become a leader in the data economy, the EU should find a European way to unleash potential and set standards.

Rules to protect privacy, transparency and fundamental rights

MEPs said rules should be based on privacy, transparency and respect for fundamental rights. The frree sharing of data must be limited to non-personal data or irreversibly anonymised data. Individuals must be in full control of their data and be protected by EU data protection rules, notably the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

The Parliament called on the Commission and EU countries to work with other countries on global standards to promote EU values and principles and ensure the Union’s market remains competitive.

European data spaces and big data infrastructure

Calling for the free flow of data to be the guiding principle, MEPs urged the Commission and EU countries to create sectoral data spaces that will enable the sharing of data while following common guidelines, legal requirements and protocols. In light of the pandemic, MEPs said that special attention should be given to the Common European Health Data Space.

As the success of the data strategy depends largely on information and communication technology infrastructure, MEPs called for accelerating technological developments in the EU, such as cybersecurity technology, optical fibres, 5G and 6G, and welcomed proposals to advance Europe's role in supercomputing and quantum computing. They warned that the digital divide between regions should be tackled to ensure equal possibilities, especially in light of the post-COVID recovery.

Environmental footprint of big data

While data has the potential to support green technologies and the EU's goal to become climate neutral by 2050, the digital sector is responsible for more than 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions. As it grows, it must focus on lowering its carbon footprint and reducing E-waste, MEPs said.

EU data sharing legislation

The Commission presented a European strategy for data in February 2020. The strategy and the White paper on artificial intelligence are the first pillars of the Commission's digital strategy.

Read more about artificial intelligence opportunities and what the Parliament wants.

The Parliaments expects the report to be taken into account in the new Data Act that the Commission will present in the second half of 2021.

Parliament is also working on a report on the Data Governance Act that the Commission presented in December 2020 as part of the strategy for data. It aims to increase data availability and strengthen trust in data sharing and in intermediaries.

A European strategy for data 

Data Governance Act: European data governance 

Artificial intelligence

EIT Health says AI vital to protect EU health systems

Catherine Feore

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On Wednesday (23 April) the European Commission presented new rules and actions aiming to turn Europe into the global hub for trustworthy Artificial Intelligence (AI). The first-ever legal framework on AI aims to guarantee the safety and fundamental rights of people and businesses, while strengthening AI uptake, investment and innovation across the EU. 

A Europe fit for the Digital Age Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager said: “On artificial intelligence, trust is a must, the EU is spearheading the development of new global norms to make sure AI can be trusted. By setting the standards, we can pave the way to ethical technology worldwide and ensure that the EU remains competitive along the way. Future-proof and innovation-friendly, our rules will intervene where strictly needed: when the safety and fundamental rights of EU citizens are at stake.”

Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton said: “AI is a means, not an end. It has been around for decades but has reached new capacities fueled by computing power. Today's proposals aim to strengthen Europe's position as a global hub of excellence in AI from the lab to the market, ensure that AI in Europe respects our values and rules, and harness the potential of AI for industrial use.” 

We spoke to Jan-Philipp Beck, CEO of EIT Health a ‘knowledge and innovation community’ (KIC) of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT). EIT Health has urged European healthcare providers to embrace AI and technology after the pandemic highlights fragility of healthcare systems.

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated adoption of AI in some areas, but broad impact remains sparse. EIT Health argues that advances in AI and technology can be of immense benefit to current healthcare systems and allow front-line workers to spend more time on patient care. A joint EIT Health and McKinsey report argues that AI automation could help alleviate workforce shortages, accelerate the research and developments of life-saving treatments, and help reduce the time spent on administrative tasks. Activities that currently occupy between 20-80% of doctor and nurse time could be streamlined or even eliminated by using AI.

EIT Health has launched a new AI report, outlining the urgent need for a post-pandemic technological revolution to prevent EU health systems from struggling over the next decade.

Jan-Philipp Beck said: “The outcomes of the AI think tank report has given us clear and consistent messages on how to drive AI and technology forward within European healthcare systems. We already know that AI has the potential to transform healthcare, but we need to work quickly and collaboratively to build it into current European healthcare structures.

“The challenge of the pandemic has undoubtedly helped accelerate growth, adoption and scaling of AI, as stakeholders have fought to deliver care both rapidly and remotely. However, this momentum needs to be maintained to ensure that benefits to healthcare systems are embedded long-term and help them to prepare for the future – something which will benefit all of us.”

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Europe fit for the Digital Age: Commission proposes new rules and actions for excellence and trust in Artificial Intelligence

EU Reporter Correspondent

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The Commission proposes new rules and actions aiming to turn Europe into the global hub for trustworthy Artificial Intelligence (AI). The combination of the first-ever legal framework on AI and a new Coordinated Plan with Member States will guarantee the safety and fundamental rights of people and businesses, while strengthening AI uptake, investment and innovation across the EU. New rules on Machinery will complement this approach by adapting safety rules to increase users' trust in the new, versatile generation of products. A Europe fit for the Digital Age Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager said: “On Artificial Intelligence, trust is a must, not a nice to have. With these landmark rules, the EU is spearheading the development of new global norms to make sure AI can be trusted. By setting the standards, we can pave the way to ethical technology worldwide and ensure that the EU remains competitive along the way. Future-proof and innovation-friendly, our rules will intervene where strictly needed: when the safety and fundamental rights of EU citizens are at stake.” Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton said: “AI is a means, not an end. It has been around for decades but has reached new capacities fueled by computing power. This offers immense potential in areas as diverse as health, transport, energy, agriculture, tourism or cyber security. It also presents a number of risks. Today's proposals aim to strengthen Europe's position as a global hub of excellence in AI from the lab to the market, ensure that AI in Europe respects our values and rules, and harness the potential of AI for industrial use.” For years, the Commission has been facilitating and enhancing cooperation on AI across the EU to boost its competitiveness and ensure trust based on EU values. The new AI regulation will make sure that Europeans can trust what AI has to offer. Proportionate and flexible rules will address the specific risks posed by AI systems and set the highest standard worldwide. The Coordinated Plan outlines the necessary policy changes and investment at member states level to strengthen Europe's leading position in the development of human-centric, sustainable, secure, inclusive and trustworthy AI. You will find more information on the press release, Q&A document and factpage, or by asking the chatbot.

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AI technologies must prevent discrimination and protect diversity

EU Reporter Correspondent

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Reducing gender, social or cultural bias in AI technologies is key, said the Culture and Education Committee in a resolution adopted on Tuesday (16 March). CULT 

The use of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies in education, culture and the audiovisual sector could have an impact on “the backbone of fundamental rights and values of our society”, says the Culture and Education Committee in a resolution adopted by 25 votes in favour, none against and four abstentions. It calls for all AI technologies to be regulated and trained so to protect non-discrimination, gender equality, pluralism, as well as cultural and linguistic diversity.

Regulate media algorithms to protect diversity

To prevent algorithm-based content recommendations, especially in video and music streaming services, from negatively affecting the EU’s cultural and linguistic diversity, MEPs ask for specific indicators to be developed to measure diversity and ensure that European works are being promoted.

The Commission must establish a clear ethical framework for how AI technologies are used in EU media to ensure people have access to culturally and linguistically diverse content. Such a framework should also address the misuse of AI to disseminate fake news and disinformation, they add.

Teaching EU values to Artificial Intelligence

The use of biased data that reflect already existing gender inequality or discrimination should be prevented when training AI, MEPs urge. Instead, inclusive and ethical data sets must be developed, with the help of stakeholders and civil society, to be used during the “deep learning” process.

“We have fought for decades to establish our values of inclusion, non-discrimination, multilingualism and cultural diversity, which our citizens see as an essential part of European identity. These values also need to be reflected in the online world, where algorithms and AI applications are being used more and more. Developing quality and inclusive data systems for use in deep learning is vital, as is a clear ethical framework to ensure access to culturally and linguistically diverse content,” said rapporteur Sabine Verheyen (EPP,DE) after the vote.

MEPs finally stress that teachers must always be able to correct decisions taken by AI, such as students’ final evaluation. At the same time, they highlight the need to train teachers and warn that they must never be replaced by AI technologies, especially in early childhood education.

Next steps

The full House is to vote on the resolution in April (tbc).

The Commission is expected to propose a legislative framework for trustworthy AI in April 2021, as a follow-up to its White Paper on Artificial Intelligence.

Further information 

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