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EU Policy. Commission should invest more in AI, Auditors say

Robots on display at the Viva Technology fair in Paris.
Robots on display at the Viva Technology fair in Paris. Copyright Michel Euler/Copyright 2017 The AP. All rights reserved.
Copyright Michel Euler/Copyright 2017 The AP. All rights reserved.
By Cynthia Kroet
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Despite AI regulation, the EU Executive fails to coordinate national plans.

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The European Commission needs to invest more in artificial intelligence if it wants to achieve its ambitions and be on a par with the US and China, the European Court of Auditors (ECA) said in a report published today (29 May).

The auditors, responsible for vetting EU finances, said that despite developing AI regulation – which will formally enter into force next month – the Commission failed to coordinate with the individual member states on AI policy and to systematically monitor investment.

“Going forward, stronger governance and more – and better targeted – public and private investment will be paramount if the EU is to achieve its AI ambitions,” the report said.

The audit – conducted through surveys at the 27 national authorities in charge of coordinating AI policies – looked mainly at the effectiveness of the Commission’s actions in overseeing national AI plans in 2018 and 2021, regulatory reforms and the implementation of EU-funded measures to stimulate the deployment and scaling-up of AI innovations.

The report shows that bloc-wide and national measures were “not effectively coordinated” because the Commission lacked the necessary governance tools and information. For example, it was unclear how member states should contribute to achieving EU investment targets. 

In addition, the Commission was slow to implement new facilities for bringing AI innovation into the market, partly due to the late adoption of the Digital Europe funding programme, which meant that significant results were not achieved by the time of the audit.

“Sizeable and focused AI investment is a game-changer in setting the speed of EU economic growth in the years to come,” said ECA member Mihails Kozlovs, who led the audit. “In the AI race, there is a risk that the winner takes it all. If the EU wishes to succeed in its ambition, the Commission and the member states must join forces more effectively, pick up the pace, and unlock the EU’s potential to succeed in this ongoing major technological revolution,” Kozlovs said.

France

The US has long been a frontrunner in AI, while China plans to become the global AI leader by 2030, the report said, with both relying on substantial private investment. The EU’s AI targets for public and private investment were €20bn over the 2018-2020 period, and €20bn each year over the following decade.

The share of businesses in the EU using AI differs significantly between member states. France and Germany for example have announced the largest public AI investments, while some other countries have failed develop any national AI strategy. Earlier this week (22 May) France's President Emmanuel Macron announced investment aiming to project the country to become a world leader on AI. A new programme will see investment of €400m across nine universities to facilitate AI research sites and grow talent in the sector. 

The EU aims to see 75% of firms using AI by 2030, claiming that adoption of such technologies by companies and the public sector can lead to productivity gains and help solve societal challenges.

The European Commission has been contacted for a response.

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