August 16, 2018

"Artificial Strategy for Europe" - EC sometimes thinks in terms of values and ethics

The EC Communication "Artificial Intelligence for Europe" has a general frame that is in stark contrast with the one of the "Digital Single Market strategy for Europe".

The DSM Communication is - as we well know by now - heavily market focused. Additional growth at the level of EUR 250 billion is sold as one of the main advantages of pursuing the strategy. The language used focuses on economic growth, and support for a market ecosystem of goods, services, enterprises and consumers.

The AI Communication, on the other hand seems to be about something else - about harnessing a new general purpose technology through a "solid European framework". The focus on markets is there, of course. But alongside it, there's a much broader perspective, and a strong argument about value-driven development that will ultimately lead to a "European approach to artificial intelligence":

"Like the steam engine or electricity in the past, AI is transforming our world, our society and our industry3. Growth in computing power, availability of data and progress in algorithms have turned AI into one of the most strategic technologies of the 21st century. The stakes could not be higher. The way we approach AI will define the world we live in. Amid fierce global competition, a solid European framework is needed.

The European Union (EU) should have a coordinated approach to make the most of the opportunities offered by AI and to address the new challenges that it brings. The EU can lead the way in developing and using AI for good and for all, building on its values and its strengths".

In a later passage, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights is invoked:

"An environment of trust and accountability around the development and use of AI is needed. The values set out in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union constitute the foundation of the rights enjoyed by those living in the Union. In addition, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights brings together all the personal, civic, political, economic and social rights enjoyed by people within the EU in a single text."

What could be the reasons for such strong ethical focus in the European AI strategy? In general, ethics are an issue that is always prominent in debates about AI development. So the European policymaker might be simply meeting a (perceived or real) norm with regard to the ethical dimension of AI. Nevertheless, the user-centered approach, and care about the wellbeing of European citizens, is surprising - and so very different than, for example, the rethoric of the Directive on copyright in the DSM.

We might consider how to argue for an extension of this ethical, user-centered, value based approach to broader digital policymaking in Europe