In a global race to dominate artificial intelligence technology, Europe needs to keep its urge to regulate under control — at least for now.
That’s the main message from Pekka Ala-Pietilä, a former president of Nokia and tech entrepreneur who is overseeing EU efforts to draw up principles that will underpin any future regulation of the technology.
A global race for AI — allowing machines to do jobs that previously required human thinking — has taken off and Europe, despite strong basic research, has so far been watching from the sidelines as American and Chinese tech firms battle over who will dominate the field.
The U.S. remains the world leader but China has caught up by boosting research and granting its AI industry subsidies and access to data from more than 1.4 billion citizens protected only by scant privacy laws.
Europe should now —“ex ante” (before the event) — come up with “broad horizontal principles” for the ethical use of AI “based on the core values in Europe,” he said.
At the head of a group including 52 experts drawn from business, research and civil society, the 61-year-old’s job is to make sure Europe has a coherent approach to a technological arms race between China, the United States and, to a lesser degree, Europe.
Europe has to “make sure that we do regulate when it’s the right time but we don’t do it prematurely when we would actually create impediments,” he told POLITICO.
By the end of this year, the group wants to draft two sets of guidelines. One document, which the EU hopes to adapt by next March, will spell out ethical principles while a second one will list recommendations for how to boost investment in Europe.
It’s Europe’s shot at defining the conditions under which AI can be deployed in its vast internal market — just as the world’s tech giants, the vast majority of whom come from the U.S. or China, are moving to establish their own set of standards.
“Ethics and competitiveness are intertwined, they’re dovetailed,” Ala-Pietilä said during an interview in the Finnish capital, describing his role as chairman of the group as “primus inter pares” (first among equals).