Compared to other global powers, the European Union (EU) is rarely considered a leading player in the development of artificial intelligence (AI).

SwissCognitiveCompared to other global powers, the European Union (EU) is rarely considered a leading player in the development of artificial intelligence (AI). Why is this, and does this in fact accurately reflect the EU’s activities related to AI? What would it take for the EU to take a more leading role in AI, and to be internationally recognised as such?

This new report surveys core components of the EU’s current AI ecosystem, providing the crucial background context for answering these questions. It outlines the EU’s high-level strategy and vision for AI, before looking at three crucial components the EU will need to implement this vision: funding, talent, and collaboration. The report aims to provide deeper insight into EU activities related to AI, to rectify any misconceptions about the EU’s level of involvement in AI development, and identify priorities for strengthening the current ecosystem.

Some key takeaways from this review include:

There is a clear emphasis on ethics and responsibility in the EU’s AI strategy and vision, especially relative to the US and China. The importance of ethics is clear in key publications laying out the EU’s AI strategy, in the makeup of the groups established to implement this strategy (particularly the High-Level Expert Group on AI which recently published a set of Draft Ethics Guidelines on AI), and in recent EU regulation, most notably the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). If the EU can quickly and effectively establish itself as leading in ethical AI, this could help give it a unique competitive advantage.

One barrier to the EU’s global competitiveness in AI development is a relative lack of VC investment and startup funding. However, the EU is beginning to address these funding challenges, for example with the newly proposed VentureEU fund and the European Fund for Strategic Investment. Though the European funding landscape is slowly changing, it remains to be seen whether these initiatives will be enough to make a meaningful impact.

Another challenge for the EU is ‘brain drain’ of talented researchers and developers to other continents. Part of the problem is that academic salaries are often not high enough to attract and retain top AI researchers. A number of different strategies for addressing this have been proposed – including boosting academic salaries and numbers of PhD positions, increasing visas to attract overseas talent, and increasing training and reskilling initiatives – but attracting and retaining top AI talent remains a significant barrier to achieving the EU’s vision.

The EU’s AI ecosystem could be strengthened by increased collaboration between member states, building on the EU’s track record of major collaborative projects including the Human Brain Project and CERN.[…]

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