In its role as a regulatory powerhouse, the European Union is taking a strict line on rules for artificial intelligence (AI). At the same time, policy makers are clear that this is one technological race they cannot afford to lose.
“Artificial Intelligence is a huge opportunity in Europe, for Europe…but we have to unleash this potential,” declared President von der Leyen during her Shaping Europe’s Digital Future address last February.
Fast forward to 2021, and she has been praising Europe’s resilience in reacting to the Covid-19 crisis and drawing attention to hefty new budget allocations for digital technologies.
As part of this, the European Commission recently announced a further six AI projects supported through €30 million in Horizon 2020 funding. This investment will add to AI4EU, a project for developing a Europe-wide AI-on-demand platform, launched in 2019 and overseen by the French multinational Thales.
The aim of the AI4EU platform is to foster collaboration across Europe’s business and research ecosystem through the promotion and distribution of cutting-edge AI solutions for key sectors.
Six innovation actions will aim to mobilise the best teams in relation to specific areas of the overall AI strategy.
Europe still lags behind in its adoption of AI when compared to trailblazers in the United States and China. According to McKinsey Global Institute, this is an inherited trend going back to the slow rates of general digital adoption in Europe.
The Commission aims to change this.
The EU approach will need to be carefully calibrated, however, against the competing importance of appropriate ethical and legal guarantees for businesses and citizens.
DIH4AI — Digital Innovation Hubs
One of the Commission’s crucial AI projects involves the creation of digital innovation hubs in order to combine the efforts of all European players in the AI field. This will be critical for maximising the contributions of all actors in the space.
Through a network of regional innovation hubs, targeting local start-ups and local government technology agencies, DIH4AI will support development and transfer of knowledge within and across the business-technology ecosystem.
This industry network will be one way for businesses to collaborate and to directly access the facilities of the AI on-demand platform.
Sites will operate on a unified cloud framework, sharing data, AI resources, services — and powerful computing capabilities.
AIPlan4EU — AI Planning Technology
Another of the Commission action projects aims to develop a series of planning systems based on AI use-cases, providing these as engines to companies for solving practical problems.
Automated, intelligent planning and scheduling systems are one area where AI could start to enhance efficiency in sectors such as manufacturing and logistics, but it could readily cascade into many other industries once the technology matures.
AIPlan4EU will develop two separate APIs for this purpose. These will be available for integration with users’ systems and will be served by the AI4EU platform. Standard interfaces will be developed and made available for integration with the most common industrial technologies.
BonApps — AI for Edge Solutions
The BonAPPs project will create a fully functional AI-as-a-service resource for European companies and developers to interact with, making use of it as an external service.
This will facilitate experimentation, benchmarking, deployment and secure licensing of AI solutions that combine deep learning with edge devices — the so-called “Deep Edge.”
Use cases will demonstrate how the platform can simplify time-consuming tasks in design, can reduce costs, and can offer ways to scale innovations when put to the market.
BonAPPs will bring together numerous specialists and start-ups who will together concentrate on applying this technology to specific layers of app development (front end, back end, etc.). From this, edge AI Apps will be developed and offered to the AI business ecosystem.
AI4Copernicus — AI for Earth Observation Data & Intelligence
Copernicus is the European Union’s Earth observation programme, providing vast quantities of satellite data to anyone who wishes to use it.
AI4Copernicus will facilitate companies and organisations in accessing computing power and Earth observation data, for instance, as well as expertise and training materials.
The project will seek to facilitate the use and distribution of AI resources in agriculture, energy, security, and other sectors of high economic or societal impact. Related experiments and case studies are intended to kickstart the innovation cycle and push greater adoption of the technology.
I-NERGY — AI in the Energy Sector
I-NERGY aims to pioneer the application of AI within the energy sector, where it has the potential to improve business performance, environmental sustainability, and customer experience.
This project aims to finance AI talent development within the sector and foster the development of high-value use cases. AI-based energy services will be developed, such as innovative AI-as-a-Service energy analytics applications, and multiple pilots will explore the avenues available in the sector.
StairwAI — AI Accessibility for Low-Tech Users
Being in its nascent stage, the most crucial action to be taken for the AI4EU platform is to make it, and AI in Europe more generally, accessible to even less technologically advanced users.
StairwAI will introduce a layer to the platform facilitating its use by such organisations. The first part of this will be a multi-lingual interaction layer allowing conversations with the platform.
The second component will be an AI-powered matchmaking service for the discovery of tools, data, and experts in-line with the user’s requirements.
The third piece of the puzzle will be a service helping users to procure hardware resources through an external provider, be it on high performance computing, cloud, or edge computing infrastructures.
The scale and breadth of these 6 separate projects alone gives a sense of the urgency the European Commission has in speeding up AI and digital adoption.
There can be no doubt now that Europe’s collective effort and success in engaging with this technological revolution could determine its future for generations: EU leaders do not plan on missing the boat.