Masters of Digital: Digitally transforming industries in Europe

Cecilia Bonefeld-Dahl speaking at the Masters of Digital event.
Cecilia Bonefeld-Dahl speaking at the Masters of Digital event.

DIGITALEUROPE is the leading trade association representing the digitally transforming industries in Europe.

In February 2019, DIGITALEUROPE held this year’s Masters of Digital conference, the largest conference on digital policy in Brussels. Masters of Digital brought together senior representatives of EU institutions, businesses, and governments to discuss the salient topics in the digital sphere. The event also marked the launch of DIGITALEUROPE’s manifesto for “A Stronger Digital Europe 2025“.

Masters of Digital 2019

SciTech Europa attended Masters of Digital and met with the DIGITALEUROPE Director-General Cecilia Bonefeld-Dahl. We discussed how DIGITALEUROPE is enabling European digital entrepreneurship, the question of digital technologies, the relationship between digital transformation and the economy, and looked to the future of DIGITALEUROPE.

How is DIGITALEUROPE enabling digital scale ups and encouraging entrepreneurs to stay in Europe?

Our main activities are focused on the policy agenda and creating the right framework for scaling up. As such, one of the main points in our manifesto concerns the harmonisation of rules in Europe so that the administrative side of things does not become an unbearable burden. This will be crucial moving forwards as companies with perhaps 25 or 30 members of staff are unlikely to stay in Europe if they are required to deal with a different administration, a different set of people, and different institutions and rules each time they want to expand into a new country.

We therefore want to harmonise the policy frameworks across Europe to allow such scale ups to grow within Europe.

How important is regulation for artificial intelligence-related technologies in order to ensure that the way they are used is compatible with European values? And how does the current policy environment reflect these values?

Artificial intelligence is not entirely new, and so, for instance, the privacy of data used within AI is already being regulated. Liability rules are in place, and regulation already applies. For example, if a self-driving car is involved in a collision, liability rules are in place although we might have to interpret them in a new way; it is not as though we are looking at a blank sheet of paper, it is really just a new use of existing technology.

However, there is one element that is new – self-learning. This involves tools learning over time and responding to commands accordingly. We now need to look at how this can be used in important situations, how self-learning happens over time, and how we can create transparency in that process.

The high-level expert group on AI at the European Commission is now looking at algorithms which have a self-learning element. While this is not building towards regulation, we are looking to generate a framework for an assessment list where, once ethical and trustworthy AI has been developed, the developer can use this list to ensure that they are meeting the relevant criteria etc.

We will provide a sample of this to different industries, governments, and institutions, and ask for their feedback. This could perhaps go on to act as the beginning of a self-regulated standard or certification scheme, which would be beneficial given the fact that, while there is already a lot of regulation in place to help embrace AI, over-regulation would have a detrimental impact.

How do you think the digital transformation will boost the EU economy, particularly, for instance, with regard to the manufacturing sector?

The manufacturing sector is extremely strong in Europe; we are heavily automated, and the second phase will see a move into data driven services. This will enable, for instance, a harmonisation of product numbers so that customers are able to order something using a particular product code no matter where they are in the world and no matter where that product is manufactured. This is an important step forwards towards utilising data to provide proactive services for customers, which is something that is needed to take productivity and competitiveness to the next level.

However, that is not possible at the moment because we don’t have the global free flow of non- personal data – although the free flow of non-personal data has been agreed upon within the EU and now remains to be implemented. We will have to look elsewhere for the global dimension and for global standards in the future and when we have that, it will then be a question of time.

Currently, only 11% of the manufacturing sector really applies advanced data analytics and that is simply not enough and means that, for the next wave, we don’t have any competitive advantage yet. That is why we have a Manufacturing Council within DIGITALEUROPE, where we mix tech and manufacturing companies to define that next boost to industry.

What are your hopes for the future of DIGITALEUROPE?

I hope that we will be able to eliminate the element of fear which tends to surround some new technologies such as AI, and thus help Europe establish a population that really drives the development of technology. I want my children to be able to demand from their home government and the EU that their health and societal conditions are improved through advanced technologies.

I also want technology to be used to create a cleaner environment. This is something that should not only be targeted at industry, however. And while we know that this is something that must be done, we don’t know how to achieve it yet.

My biggest wish for the future is that technological development happens and that people from all sectors and aspects of society stop fearing the unknown and stop rejecting things because they don’t understand them; we need people to embrace new and disruptive technologies if we are to truly achieve Europe’s potential in the digital future.

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