Belgium, (Brussels Morning Newspaper) EU auditors are starting to assess EU action to boost the development of artificial intelligence (AI), notably by examining whether the European Commission’s plans and financial measures are conducive to positioning Europe as a global leader in AI.
The European Court of Auditors (ECA) believes that AI is “crucial to the future competitiveness” of the EU bloc’s economy but it argues that the EU is risking falling behind in this key technological race.
“Artificial intelligence will undoubtedly bring many considerable benefits in a wide range of sectors,” said Mihails Kozlovs, the ECA member who will lead the audit, “and the stakes for EU competitiveness are too high to get it wrong. Our audit will determine whether the sufficient effort is being made to prevent Europe from missing the boat in this major technological revolution.”
Gaps between EU countries
AI is key to the EU’s digital transition, its industrial policy, and its strategic autonomy. The revolution is underway, but Europe is still lagging behind on key aspects such as financing, EU auditors stated. Compared to AI investment in the US, the EU is investing half as much as the amount invested overseas.
Moreover, within the EU, large differences persist regarding the uptake of AI technologies per EU country. For example, less than 1 in 10 businesses in the EU (8%) were using AI in 2021. While almost 1 in every 4 businesses in Denmark (24%) used AI and over 15% in Portugal (17%) and Finland (16%), this proportion fell below 5% in the Czech Republic, Greece, Latvia, and Lithuania (all 4%), in Bulgaria, Estonia, Cyprus, Hungary, and Poland (all 3%), and in Romania (1%).
ECA’s audit will check whether key conditions are in place in the EU to boost the development of AI. In particular, auditors will examine whether the European Commission ensures that EU money effectively supports the creation of a proper and competitive European AI ecosystem, taking into account the strategic importance of AI and the potential risks to safety and security.
Ethics and security
The Commission adopted an EU-level coordinated plan on AI in 2018, which was updated in 2021.
With this plan, the EU executive is hoping to lead the AI tech race by developing and deploying cutting-edge AI, as well as ensuring ethical and secure AI products.
However, the watchdog Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) recently revealed how the Commission is caving to external pressure and reducing safety obligations, sidelining human rights and anti-discrimination concerns for some key AI products.
“In their latest positions, both the Parliament and the Council have postponed the discussion on regulating general purpose AI. Institutions also narrowed the definition of AI systems, limiting the number of systems to which scrutiny would be applied,” the CEO denounced.