How can Europe catch the US on artificial intelligence?

How can Europe catch the US on artificial intelligence?
How can Europe catch the US on artificial intelligence?

While member states compete with one another for AI supremacy, EU research funding is loosely distributed among thousands of poorly coordinated programs. For a sector to succeed, it must overcome national interests and operate at scale.

Like no other technological advancement since the iPhone, ChatGPT, a natural language processor that converts internet knowledge into a human chat interface, has captivated the public’s attention. Suddenly, consumer adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) technology designed to mimic human cognition, which are currently widely employed in industry, is expected to increase. 

ChatGPT is a US product, just as the Apple iPhone, indicating that US technological superiority is only gaining strength. It was depressing to hear Clement Delangue, the French CEO of HuggingFace, the organization responsible for the creation of Bloom, the well-liked competitor to ChatGPT, explain to the US Congress last month why the founders moved there. Delangue asserted that “I don’t think we could have created this company anywhere else.”

Nothing more clearly demonstrates Europe’s AI dilemma. Despite having some of the top universities and research facilities in the world, we are losing ground to the US in terms of commercial applications.

This jeopardizes Europe’s capacity to compete on the world stage as well as its ability to continue financing its social system and way of life, given the sector’s growing economic importance.

It is crucial to remember that technology, and artificial intelligence in particular, is what drives societal, cultural, and economic advancement.  Future European sovereignty is seriously questioned given the widening gap between us and our rivals.

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Ambition lacking in action

There are many ingrained and well-known causes for Europe’s poor performance in AI, including the lack of venture capital to compete with Silicon Valley’s deep pockets, the lack of incentives for professors and universities to work with business, and the absence of tech giants with the size, goals, and research budgets of Google and Microsoft.

There are approaches to dealing with the problem, despite its scale and complexity. The European Commission in particular has a significant role to play given its dual function as a regulator and a supporter of research.

The Commission’s ambition in this area is commendable. When Ursula von der Leyen became president in 2019, she gave AI top priority and generous financing. However, it may be argued that the difference between Europe and the US has widened now, over four years later.

This is due to two main factors:

First, a limited amount of EU research funding has been allocated to thousands of disorganized projects that are spread out over Europe and are being worked on by scholars who are not fully devoted to the initiatives. 

The second, related issue is that member states are competing with one another for supremacy in AI, which further fragments financing and discourages effort concentration. A successful sector must overcome national interests and operate on a large scale.

Europe has moved to regulation as it falls farther behind the US and aims to set the global agenda with the proposed AI Act for the EU. This makes sense in some ways. The hazards associated with AI, such as the possibility of mistakes and biased suggestions, are real.

On the other hand, a well-thought-out legal framework may be a way to promote innovation. However, AI technologies are still in their infancy and cannot yet be fully regulated.

Last-minute revisions to the AI bill to cater for cutting-edge generative AI models like ChatGPT have exposed this. This has produced uncertainty for business rather than the expected clarity and stability. Instead of trying to make legislation for a technology that is still in its infancy future-proof, EU legislators would be better off using prudence for the time being.

A future-oriented road map

The Von der Leyen Commission increased the visibility of AI in Brussels and generously funded it. We anticipate that going future, this goal will not only be met but also surpassed. We call on legislators throughout the continent to make the following tenets of AI policy:

  • Think EU-wide: Member nations should work together to develop an EU-wide strategy because they lack the resources to compete with the US on their own.
  • Increased and focused investment is required. Europe must create sizable, well-funded innovation hubs modeled after successful US commercial AI labs and make them accessible to academics and innovators from across European business and academia. This will necessitate both an order of magnitude increases in investment in AI as well as its concentration in the centers of competence.
  • Increase the number of AI graduates by creating compelling incentives for students to pick computer science and AI as their majors and by creating talent-acceleration programs.
  • Create innovative eco-systems by boosting support for startups, venture capital, public sector research institutes, and already-existing businesses and government organizations.
  • Regulate, but do it carefully; don’t make it more difficult for start-up businesses and small entrepreneurs to operate in Europe. 

Both the early internet and the smartphone eras were dominated by US businesses. If Europe wants to retain control over the rapidly approaching AI era, it must act now.

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