AI crucial for economic development, but humans should retain control, MEPs insist

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Artificial Intelligence is a major part of the digital transformation that should underpin Europe’s post-pandemic recovery, MEPs across the political spectrum have highlighted. Yet, innovation, should be counterbalanced with the appropriate regulatory checks and balances, where ultimately humans should retain control.

AI is rapidly taking over our daily life – from automated chatbots that welcome us to a host of websites to Siri, Apple’s virtual assistant, intelligent technologies are becoming the norm. And yet, this is just a taste of things to come, with AI powering self-driving cars, apps telling us if we’re at risk of a heart attack or scheduling our next investment on the Stock Exchange.

The European Parliament believes that Europe should rise to the occasion and develop global leadership in this field. However, non-human intervention should not be limitless, lawmakers have argued. High-risk AI technologies, such as those with self-learning capacities, should be designed to allow for human oversight at any time. If a functionality is used that would result in a serious breach of ethical principles and could be dangerous, the self-learning capacities should be disabled and full human control should be restored.

Following several Parliamentary reports on Artificial Intelligence, the Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee is expected to adopt its own-initiative report on AI and shaping the digital future of Europe later on today.

From its end, the Commission is currently preparing its first set of rules to manage this exciting development, including its impact on individuals, society and the economy. The new rules are also expected to provide an environment in which European researchers, developers and businesses can thrive. However, the European Parliament insists that the customer must remain at the centre.

At a press briefing hosted by the EP Press Office, Deirdre Clune (EPP, IE) who worked on an own-initiative report focused on improving the use of AI for European consumers, insisted that MEPs want an AI framework which was “consumer-friendly, human-centric and consistent with EU values”.

That should not mean putting up unnecessary barriers that restrict innovation. However, for AI to truly be successful, consumers needed to understand how AI is used and had a right to be informed, she added.

Axel Voss (EPP, DE), who authored a report on liability, called for a future-oriented civil liability framework, making those operating high-risk AI strictly liable for any resulting damage. A clear legal framework would stimulate innovation by providing businesses with legal certainty, whilst protecting citizens and promoting their trust in AI technologies by deterring activities that might be dangerous, he argued.

This was imperative for Europe to achieve leadership and to ensure further investment in the sector, with Voss noting that so far the bulk of AI investment has originated from the public sector.

Data released by Eurostat earlier this week has shown that in 2020, only 7% of enterprises in the EU with at least 10 people employed used AI applications. While 2% of the enterprises used machine learning to analyse big data internally, 1% analysed big data internally with the help of natural language processing, natural language generation or speech recognition.

Interestingly, Maltese companies have stated to proactively embrace the revolution of Artificial Intelligence as an area of strategic importance and a key driver of economic development.

Among the EU Member States, Ireland (23%) and Malta (19%) recorded the highest share of enterprises that used any of the four considered AI applications in 2020. Finland (12%) and Denmark (11%) come far behind in third and fourth place respectively.

The European Commission is expected to present its legislative proposals later this month.

This article is part of a content series called Ewropej. This is a multi-newsroom initiative part-funded by the European Parliament to bring the work of the EP closer to the citizens of Malta and keep them informed about matters that affect their daily lives. This article reflects only the author’s view. The European Parliament is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.