At the event, European citizens with interest in AI had the chance to gain an overview of Europe's position in the field of AI and to learn about its impact on Europe's economy and society. Thus, "European Vision for AI 2021" represented the first opportunity for a public discussion on the world's first legal framework on AI and the new Coordinated Plan with Member States, announced by the European Commission the day before, following up on its vision for a European ecosystem of excellence and trust in AI.
Holger Hoos (Leiden University, Netherlands), coordinator of the VISION Project, introduced the event, observing how the reactions to the announcement by the European Commission were quite understandably more focused on the legal framework than the Coordinated Plan and the ecosystem of excellence: "We look forward to discussing both: the ecosystem of trust and the proposed legal framework as well as the ecosystem of excellence, highlighting the ecosystem of excellence and its importance for the future of Europe in order to avoid being dominated by products and services made elsewhere."
Lucilla Sioli, Director for Artificial Intelligence & Digital Industry within the Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology (DG CNECT) at the European Commission, gave an overview of the Commission's plans, stressing that: "... at the European Commission, we believe that AI is going to be extremely important for our economies and societies, and its positive impact has already been experienced during this pandemic." Ms. Sioli named examples when AI helped in the search for treatments and vaccines in the first wave of the pandemic.
"AI is beneficial because it is also very versatile, it applies to all sectors of the economy, so it can be a very important source of growth, especially in this time when Europe really needs an economic recovery," highlighted Sioli. On the other hand, AI also creates some risks, especially in the area of safety and fundamental rights. She emphasized the importance of the regulatory framework, the first of its kind in the world, whose goal is to harmonize regulation in Europe. The risk-based approach was chosen to achieve a good balance between protection and innovation.
Most of the market is not risky at all, but there are high-risk AI systems that must be either prohibited or regulated. "The regulatory package is going to ensure trust as trust is needed because we need to increase the use of AI. We also want to become a hub in terms of being leaders in the development of trustworthy AI, and for that, we join forces with member states and publish a Coordinated Plan on AI 2021." The discussions will now start with the Council and the European Parliament. The plan also considers new funding opportunities offered by the multiannual financial framework (i.e., Horizon Europe and Digital Europe Programme) and the Recovery and Resilience Fund, which has a budget of more than 600 billion EUR, of which 20% will be invested in the digital transformation.
The round-table discussion provided a chance to react to the proposed regulation and action plan with Dita Charanzová, Vice-President of the European Parliament; Kristian Kersting, TU Darmstadt, Germany; Ieva Martinkenaite, VP AI, Telenor, Norway; and Gabriele Mazzini, DG CNECT, European Commission. According to Ms. Charanzová, the rules "are a good and positive step. We are now all digesting the proposal [..]. I welcome it very much, but as I always say, 'the devil is in detail.' So we have to look at every detail of these regulations." Ms. Charanzová pointed out that there already is legislation in place, so the new regulation is about filling the gaps. The need to coordinate efforts between research, industry, and society was also stressed by Ieva Martinkenaite: "We need to create best practices, positive examples for industry, involving policymakers, involving academia so that we learn how to apply these practices of trustworthy AI in business. It is not about creating compliance and regulations, and directives. It's about helping us to implement it." Kristian Kersting also stressed the importance of maintaining excellence in research through coordinated actions and the creation of large-scale infrastructure by establishing a "CERN for AI."
The general public was able to follow the event online and was able to interact via chat and a number of polls. Participants also had the opportunity to choose from three parallel sessions focussing on society, industry, and skills & training, depending on their particular interests. A diverse set of panelists, covering a broad range of stakeholders in AI, discussed how the new EU plans affect these areas of high public interest.
About the organizers
This event was organized by the consortium of partners of the European VISION Project (www.vision4ai.eu), the coordination and support action (CSA) awarded under the H2020-ICT-48-2020 call. The mandate of VISION is to reinforce, interconnect and mobilize Europe's AI community. The European Commission has been investing in the European model of AI, with a new set of four European networks of AI excellence centers. Launched in September 2020, these four networks of excellence centers - AI4Media, ELISE, HumanE-AI-Net, and TAILOR - are now working on various aspects of trustworthy, human-centric AI. In parallel to these efforts, the VISION project aims to create connections, synergy, and joint initiatives between these networks as well as with key stakeholders across Europe. The networks of AI excellence centers and the VISION coordination mandate are key components of the European Commission's AI strategy.
This project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under grant agreement No.952070.
All videos from the event are available at: