Marco-Alexander Breit, Head of Task Force Artificial Intelligence and Digital Technologies, German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy shares views on the scope of AI systems and their regulation in Europe and beyond
RAID: We are delighted you are speaking at RAID on the panel “Harnessing AI as it gets stronger, faster”. Firstly, why is it so important to regulate AI?
Marco-Alexander Breit: Regulating AI can give users the confidence to embrace AI-based solutions, while encouraging businesses to develop and deploy them. Thus, AI can be a tool for mankind to increase human well-being and tackle the gigantic challenges of our time, for example climate change.
With a prudent regulatory framework for AI applications we can ensure that AI systems are safe and trustworthy and respect existing law on fundamental rights. Moreover, we can ensure legal certainty to facilitate investment and innovation in AI. Legal certainty gives investors planning security, especially for long-term investment decisions. This can be a competitive advantage.
But let me be clear: regulation is not a driver or incentive for innovation; it gives orientation of acceptable limits. And, finally, it is important to understand that existing laws do already apply to AI; we have to find loopholes and fix them.
RAID: Is there a risk of overregulation in the EU – is legislation such as the AI Act being developed in a way that creates a benign environment for innovation?
Marco-Alexander Breit: In general, there is always the risk of error when you take decisions. And legislative or regulatory errors are avoidable costs for businesses. The European Commission’s approach aims to strike the right balance by fostering technological innovations while addressing the risks. The proposal builds on existing legal frameworks and intends to close regulatory loopholes.
The AI Act follows a risk-based approach and intends to impose regulatory burdens only when an AI System is likely to pose high risks to fundamental rights and safety. For other, non-high-risk AI systems, transparency obligations are imposed according to the proposal, for example in terms of the provision of information to flag the use of an AI system when interacting with humans.
Additional measures are suggested to support innovation, in particular through AI regulatory sandboxes and other measures to reduce the regulatory burden and to support smaller Enterprises and start-ups. We welcome that the Commission started the political debate. Our aim is to find a balanced approach that also supports the massive opportunities for European businesses.
RAID: There is a lot of expertise and technological strength within European countries – how can this be brought together so the region can develop the tech sector further?
Marco-Alexander Breit: To ensure that Europe remains innovative and competitive, resources must be mobilised and the right incentives must be provided for a strong European AI ecosystem. In doing so, the transfer of AI from research to economic practice and into the broad range of applications for SMEs must be strengthened. The EU AI strategy, the Coordinated Plan, supports these goals and aims at a holistic approach by EU, member states and private actors.
There already are efforts to foster cooperation and collaboration between different regions in Europe; a lot of them bilateral. I believe that the AI Act, that is currently discussed by the EU member states and the European Parliament, will create legal certainty for AI developers and users in the EU and may be a regulatory best-practice for other jurisdictions.
We highly appreciate that the Commission launched the Data Strategy in parallel to the AI White Paper in 2020. AI without data is like an engine without fuel or electricity. One of the key initiatives with regard to strengthening Europe therefore is, of course, Gaia-X. It provides an ecosystem for data driven innovations, covers 10 sectors and today there are 11 Gaia-X hubs in EU member states, while we aim to have a hub in every member state. I am convinced that this ecosystem will foster data-driven innovation in all of Europe and beyond.
And since AI is always only as smart as the data with which it is fed, EU legislation also looks at the governance of common European data spaces. The Data Governance Act introduces novel business models, such as data intermediaries, which help establish a single market for data across the continent.
RAID: Looking beyond Europe, what role do you see for increased dialogue between regions and the global tech sector in the regulation and development of AI?
Marco-Alexander Breit: Germany launched the Digital Ministers track in its 2017 G20 presidency involving business and NGO initiatives. We are convinced that the promise of digitalisation for progress and prosperity needs multilateralism and rule-based policy approaches. AI is changing the game. The social, the economical, the global political relations and interdependencies will be transformed by AI as a technology. Hence, I believe that global dialogue is especially crucial to fostering development and use of AI-systems based on democratic, human-centric values.
The most prominent example is the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence (GPAI). In the Centres of Expertise in Montreal (Canada) and Paris, experts from around the globe work closely together on, for example, how to ensure the responsible use of AI, how to speed-up the use of AI by business, especially SMEs, and the benefits AI can bring during the COVID19 pandemic. The experts come from tech companies, civil society, academia etc. Their work provides input and guidance that is valuable to and appreciated by governments, especially since AI is still in a state of rapid development, and it is still hard to predict where AI will be in 10 years, or even in five years.
Marco-Alexander Breit is speaking at RAID (Regulation of AI, Internet & Data), taking place online on 12 October. Register here to watch live or on-demand: http://www.raid.tech/register