AI and the digital transformation in Europe

AI and the digital transformation in Europe

For Lucilla Sioli, director for Artificial Intelligence and Digital Industry at the European Commission’s DG CONNECT, the future of digital transformation relies on AI, and the future of AI relies on investment.

The European Commission has pushed for more research into artificial intelligence (AI) and has recently appointed 52 experts to a new High-Level Expert Group to support the implementation of the European Strategy on AI. The group comprises of representatives from academia and civil society, as well as industry. Many experts believe that AI will be the next big step in the digital transformation, and following on from this, the Commission has released a strategy to push Europe as a world leader in AI research.

The Commission’s strategy has three major dimensions: increasing investments to boost the EU’s technological and industrial capacity, as well as AI uptake across the economy; preparing for socio-economic changes brought forward by AI; and ensuring an appropriate ethical and legal framework. With regard to investment, the strategy sets out a €1.5 billion increase over the next three years, hoping to trigger public and private sectors to up their research and investment in digital transformation, with intentions of bringing the total to around €20bn.

At the 2018 European Forum for Electronic Components and Systems (EFECS), SciTech Europa heard Lucilla Sioli, director for Artificial Intelligence and Digital Industry at DG CONNECT, discuss the desperate need for more investment in AI for more coherent and practical research and strategic agendas. The future of digital transformation relies on AI, and the future of AI relies on investment, she said.

Is Europe investing enough in AI?

During her speech at EFECS, Sioli’s leitmotif was that there is not enough money being invested in the strategic area’s throughout Europe. She said: “We [Europe] are faced with challenges simply because of the fact that we are not investing enough in the research movement. Although we do invest more in Europe in comparison to other parts of the world, research and innovation needs to be more focused. As part of the electronic components and systems community, we all have to be the main drivers now, as we go forwards in the days of digital transformation.”

She continued to explain the differences between the USA, China, and Europe, highlighting that: “In terms of computing, we are investing 60% of what the Americans are, in cyber security we are in investing 10 times less, and in intelligence three or four times less.” Sioli also explained that this is a trend which we are seeing take place among a multitude of digital areas, and something which should be paid more attention to. Her comparisons enhance the idea that although we have not previously invested in digital transformation as much as other parts of the world, this is something that can be changed in the future.

Within her speech, Sioli praised Europe’s efforts within the manufacturing, automotive, and healthcare industries, explaining that although investment and research in these areas have generally been good, using technology will now be the way to enhance these strong industrial sectors, and there is therefore a need to cross-engage more electronics and software research.

A collaborative approach to research and development in AI technology

Despite European Member States having their own initiatives and strategies, Sioli highlighted how important it is to work together as an EU-28 community. In 2017, Finland appointed its own steering group and published its own vision on AI and, additionally, earlier this year France announced a National Artificial Intelligence Programme, and Germany has also published its own AI strategy. Although these strategies are all beneficial in unlocking the potential of AI in Europe, Sioli called for more collaboration.

She said: “We are trying to bring communities together to invest in ethical AI, but we are also trying to bring Member States together; we will never be able to reach the kind of investments similar to America and China if we are working alone. There is not one single European country who can one day think of working at the same level of the US, therefore the only solution is for our Member States to work together.”

The first insight to the collaborative process of European research in AI has been outlined in the plan which was published in December, declaring how Member States intend to work together to reach their ambitions, identifying the main areas of collaboration on the topic.

Furthering research in AI

The European Components and Systems for European Leadership (ECSEL) Joint Undertaking will play an important role and will be a crucial instrument in the future of AI. Sioli illustrated this when she highlighted: “The Commission leads a lot of projects that are going to be important for the future of artificial intelligence. I have seen a lot of projects within ECSEL that use artificial intelligence as a new tool to achieve their objectives. This is important to keep in mind. Additionally, ECSEL has the ambition of bringing together a variety of different communities, and we have to be able to not only produce a research agenda, but also to have a focus within that research agenda.”

She closed her speech highlighting the positive outlook for Europe, should we collaborate and invest more efficiently and strategically: “We have to make our collaboration between different industrial partners stronger, whilst also ensuring that Member States are strategically participating in the efforts. We still have two more years for ECSEL, and I think we still have to work on some of the items which we were identified in the mid-term evaluation, such as greater participation and ensuring we know exactly what each different party is contributing.

“It is also very important at this moment in time that we are able to show that ECSEL works well in terms of industrial impact, that is, works well in terms of a strategic agenda; and that it works well in terms of the financial implementation of the activity.”

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