EU falling behind in global AI race, MEPs warn

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The European Union is lagging behind the United States and China in the global race for Artificial Intelligence (AI), MEPs said on Tuesday (3 May), warning that such a situation creates geopolitical risks given the strategic importance of these new technological systems.

“The EU is still far from fulfilling its aspirations of becoming competitive in AI on a global level,” EU lawmakers said in a report that urges EU member states to increase investment in research, infrastructure, education, and training in the field of AI.

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The text speaks against certain mass surveillance technologies used by non-democratic countries — with MEPs raising concerns over military research and technological developments into lethal autonomous weapon systems.

Romanian liberal MEP Dragoş Tudorache, who chairs the committee on AI, said the EU has a “geopolitical interest” to develop human-centric approaches and become a global standard-setter in AI.

“We are not on this alone. We are on the global stage competing with other actors who also have a different worldview as to the future role of AI in their societies,” he told a press conference.

Similarly, Lead MEP German conservative Axel Voss said that the EU currently has a “unique chance” to develop a legal framework that leaves space for innovation and creates clear standards.

While the EU has a strong position in industrial software and robotics, the bloc has been struggling to train and attract professionals and graduates in the field of AI.

Brexit, MEPs said, had a negative impact on the EU’s leadership in this field since the UK was one of the leading European countries in AI.

But the 27-nation bloc has been underinvesting in AI during the last few years in comparison to the global leaders in this field.

And, overall, 42 percent of the EU population lacks digital skills and just one-quarter of people have access to 5G.

In their report, MEPs say EU member states should commit to investing at least three percent of its GDP in research and innovation to achieve the union’s so-called strategic autonomy in the digital field.

The estimated annual investment of the EU in AI is €1bn, compared to €5.1bn invested annually by the US and €6.8bn by China.

The US’s leading position in venture and private equity investment has made the other side of the Atlantic more attractive to European entrepreneurs to scale up their businesses, MEPs say.

Additionally, inconsistencies in EU law, the overlap of different legislative initiatives and different legal interpretations of the rules can also create legal uncertainty for companies and further slow down developments of AI products and services in Europe, they added.

AI is expected to contribute more than €11bn to the global economy by 2030.

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