Shaping trustworthy digital future

AI systems should guarantee human oversight for “high-risk cases”

Photo: EU Margrethe Vestager, on the left, and Thierry Breton on the right.

The Commission on Wednesday put on the table its new digital strategy taking into account the bigger challenges that lay ahead in this respect and issuing the White Paper on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the European data strategy. The EU executive thus outlined its ideas for future actions demanding that Europe can set global standards on technological development while putting people first.

As EC President Ursula von der Leyen stressed “with the Digital strategy we adopted today, we want to give each European, each business, and our industry and societies the chance to fully benefit from the digital transformation”. She also stressed that the strategy “covers everything from cybersecurity to critical infrastructures, digital education to skills, democracy to media.”

We want every citizen, every employee, every business to stand a fair chance to reap the benefits of digitalization, Executive Vice-President for A Europe Fit for the Digital Age, Margrethe Vestager, emphasized. Whether that means driving more safely or polluting less thanks to connected cars; or even saving lives with AI-driven medical imagery that allows doctors to detect diseases earlier than ever before, she added.

 Commenting on the actions concerning data, Thierry Breton, Commissioner for Internal Market, underlined that our society is generating a huge wave of industrial and public data, “which will transform the way we produce, consume and live”. I want European businesses and our many SMEs to access this data and create value for Europeans – including by developing AI applications, he underlined. According to him Europe has everything it takes to lead the ‘big data' race, and preserve its technological sovereignty, industrial leadership and economic competitiveness to the benefit of European consumers.

In its White Paper, that is open for public consultation until 19 May this year, the Commission provides for s a framework for trustworthy Artificial Intelligence. The aim is to mobilise resources along the entire value chain and to create the right incentives to accelerate deployment of AI, including by SMEs. All this will be done in partnership with the private and the public sector and includes working with Member States and the research community, to attract and keep talent.

The Commission stressed on the need rules to address high-risk AI systems without putting too much burden on less risky ones. Strict EU rules for consumer protection, to address unfair commercial practices and to protect personal data and privacy, continue to apply.

It was also accented that for “high-risk cases”, such as in health, policing, or transport, AI systems should be transparent, traceable and guarantee human oversight. Authorities should be able to test and certify the data used by algorithms as they check cosmetics, cars or toys. Unbiased data is needed to train high-risk systems to perform properly, and to ensure respect of fundamental rights, in particular non-discrimination.

 Currently the use of facial recognition for remote biometric identification is generally prohibited and can only be used in exceptional, duly justified and proportionate cases, subject to safeguards and based of EU or national law, the Commission wants to launch a broad debate about which circumstances, if any, might justify such exceptions.

Concerning data front, in view that its amount generated by businesses and public bodies is constantly growing, the European data strategy aims at setting up a true European data space, a single market for data. It will to unlock unused data, allowing it to flow freely within the EU and across sectors for the benefit of businesses, researchers and public administrations.

Europe has everything it takes to become a leader in this new data economy: the strongest industrial base of the world, with SMEs being a vital part of the industrial fabric; the technologies; the skills; and now also a clear vision, the Commission document reads.

Citizens, businesses and organisations should be empowered to make better decisions based on insights gathered from non-personal data. That data should be available to all, whether public or private, start-up or giant.

To achieve this, the Commission will first propose to establish the right regulatory framework regarding data governance, access and reuse between businesses, between businesses and government, and within administrations.

Creating incentives for data sharing, establishing practical, fair and clear rules on data access and use, which comply with European values and rights such as personal data protection, consumer protection and competition rules, are among the envisaged actions. It also means to make public sector data more widely available by opening up high-value datasets across the EU and allowing their reuse to innovate on top.

To enable the EU and all the actors to grasp the opportunities of the data economy, the Commission will contribute to investments in European High Impact projects on European data spaces and trustworthy and energy efficient cloud infrastructures.

Furthermore, it will kick off sectoral specific actions, to build European data spaces in for instance industrial manufacturing, the green deal, mobility or health, and will work to further narrow the digital skills gap among Europeans.

Later this year, the executive will present a Digital Services Act and a European Democracy Action Plan, a review of the eIDAS regulation, and strengthen cybersecurity by developing a Joint Cyber Unit. The EU will continue to build alliances with global partners, leveraging its regulatory power, capacity building, diplomacy and finance to promote the European digitalisation model.

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