On AI, Europe prefers to think than to innovate

Despite the enormous opportunities provided by the technology surrounding artificial intelligence, the European Union is more preoccupied with coming up with creative ways of taxing automation and regulating AI. This will eventually show to be a massive error of judgement.

The Commission’s AI “strategy”

During the Digital Summit in Tallinn in October, the conclusion by EU leaders was clear: “to put forward a European approach for AI”. And indeed, the European Commission (EC) is ready to tackle the innovative opportunity that artificial intelligence is by… starting a website (hey, we all start somewhere). The PowerPoint by the Directorate‑General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology within the EC, is absolutely telling when it comes to its approach to new technologies. First off it dimly recognises the economic potential of AI, but then quickly shifts to its preferred focus, namely “ethical, legal, societal and economic issues”,

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“Responsible ethical learning in robotics”, engaging with civil society, and a vague reference to a Eurobarometer poll in 2017 . In the latter, respondents claimed to be concerned about the potential of job losses through automation, and only a minority was said to be comfortable with robots performing a range of tasks:

“Almost three quarters agree that due to the use of robots and artificial intelligence, more jobs will disappear than new jobs will be created (74%), and almost as many agree robots and artificial intelligence steal people’s jobs (72%).”

However, it turns out that quite the opposite is the case. In a 2015 report by Deloitte, researchers found that while automation has reduced an initial number of jobs in the United Kingdom by 800,000, it created nearly 3.5 million new ones. They also concluded that the difference in salary for the latter is £10,000 (€11,407) higher than the jobs that were lost, resulting in a boost for the economy of £140 billion (€160 million).

Almost 75 percent of business owners in the UK have indicated that they expect technology to have a significant or very significant effect on their performance, and that they will employ more people as a result. And in fact, the headcount employment numbers have been increasing almost uninterruptedly since 2011.

EU legislators and bureaucrats feel emboldened by the concerns expressed in the Eurobarometer survey.

Out of the 14-page draft AI strategy document, only two address the ways in which Europe is supposed to “lead” on artificial intelligence. The rest are suggestions of a legislative avalanche of restrictions for ethical reasons and social questions. The documents even go so far as to demand to “maintain the lead, develop the technology based on European values”. Here’s something to note: Europe is not leading on AI, and also, what in the world are European values on technology? Who gets to decide what the ethical implications of new methods for manufacturing are supposed to be?

A problem of modern European politics

Politico writer Bruno Maçães found an excellent way of describing the problem with the AI strategy. He writes:

“The core of the new strategy turns out to be the development of a Charter on AI Ethics. In a passage perhaps aimed at responding to the Chinese gambit for AI supremacy, the Commission intends to argue — or so it is written in the current draft — that the EU “can position itself as a leader in the international reflection on AI.” Let others lead on AI. The EU will be able to reflect on it better than anyone else.”

This is indicative of the European regulatory state. The position of governments isn’t that technological changes occur, and that some parts of the laws surrounding it will need to be adapted, but that every aspect of its effect needs to be analysed, monitored and heavily regulated through vague notions of values and ethics that nobody seems to define. Even if we were to presume that European values in technology exist, then we’d all still be in the dark as to what they constitute, and who is in charge of determining them. Is it the individual or is it a centralised bureaucracy?


This article was first published by Values4Europe.

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About Bill Wirtz

My name is Bill, I'm from Luxembourg and I write about the virtues of a free society. I favour individual and economic freedom and I believe in the capabilities people can develop when they have to take their own responsibilities.

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