Ask any expert about where Europe stands in the race to dominate Artificial Intelligence (AI) globally. Chances are, they’ll tell you the real competition is between China and the US; Europe isn’t even close to winning the bronze medal, as Kai-fu Lee said in an interview.
Lee isn’t alone. Many observers and experts, both inside Europe and beyond, believe Europe has missed the AI bus. There’s nothing to suggest Europe is a serious contender for the winner’s throne in AI.
And that’s not inaccurate. Europe has made very little contribution, or rather disruption, to the AI industry. No major breakthroughs in artificial intelligence have been reported in Europe. Europe is nowhere close to being the startupper’s darling when it comes to AI. There hasn’t been any significant invention that has come out of Europe in the field of AI.
A commonly held belief is that the US will use AI for profits and China will, among other things, build a social credit system with AI. Europe, they say, isn’t clear what it wants out of AI.
In short, artificial intelligence in Europe doesn’t appear to be a top priority of policy makers.
Yes, there are a lot of things stacked up against Europe.
And yet we see a silver lining. We believe that it’s not right to write off Europe so fast.
Despite everything that experts say about AI and Europe (and mostly their observations have been correct), there are certain strong factors that work in favor of Europe.
Reasons why Europe could win the AI war
1. Bigger headcount
It may surprise you, but Europe has a bigger number of professional developers as compared to the USA.
McKinsey estimates that Europe has close to six million professional developers which is more than what the US has.
2. Variety of AI capabilities
Because Europe isn’t a single country like China or the US, different AI companies in Europe have grown in different ways in different countries. For instance, Finland has some amazing human capital while the UK is a force to reckon with in innovation.
The end result is Europe has built a wider set of AI capabilities than you’d believe. And because AI has applications in practically everything, this advantage will go a long way.
3. Tradition of setting standards
Europe has a unique leadership trait of setting standards (remember emission norms?). As AI matures everywhere, there will be a need for measurements, standardization and certifications.
The AI development in Europe, along with the tradition of setting benchmarks, will help Europe establish leadership where no other economies possibly can: providing credibility.
4. More startups than you think
The AI startups in Europe are far bigger in number than you’d probably give them credit for.
While Europe isn’t famous for startups, the numbers are quite encouraging. Of the 2,451 AI startups that Statista reports as on 2018, 675 belong to European countries (the UK alone has 245).
5. Common data spaces
Current European Commission Vice President Andrus Ansip, in an official statement, disclosed how Europe is planning to ‘develop common data spaces’.
These common data spaces, for areas like energy, manufacturing and healthcare, will make data sharing between European countries easier without compromising data security. AI development in Europe will hugely benefit from this, because successful AI can be built only through huge amount of data.
6. PRARIE comes up
The Prairie (PaRis Artificial Intelligence Research InstitutE) has been conceived of as an institute of institutes. That’s because “it brings together five academic institutions, 16 major corporations and a network of international partners.”
PRAIRIE has no magic wand so they’ve set themselves a period of five years in which to be a world leader in AI research. The institute assumes importance increases because it will conduct both fundamental research as well as interdisciplinary research. (Reference)
7. DECODE-ing Artificial Intelligence
Another thrust that AI in Europe will receive in a positive direction is the DECODE (DEcentralized Citizen Owned Data Ecosystem).
With this system, citizens can proactively exercise their right to choose if and how their personal data will be used. It also gives them the power to who can use their personal data. This is in tune with the GDPR regulations that the European Union introduced last year (Read more about the GDPR here).
8. Building on strengths
Europe doesn’t have to fight every single AI battle to win the war. There are areas where Europe could be fighting a losing battle too.
But there are ample number of fronts on which top AI companies in Europe might easily be clear winners. It, for instance, already an edge in B2B and industrial robotics. That, and a pan-Europe network of AI based innovation hubs could be more than what China or the USA could possibly handle.
9. Silent winners
For all the big news you read about AI in China or AI in the USA, there are successful AI companies in the European Union that are winners long since.
AI adoption in Europe, particularly in north European and Anglo-Saxon countries is already high. These countries lead Europe, are ahead of China and not too far behind the US. While they haven’t garnered publicity, they would be a major force to reckon with at the time of the final tally.
10. And the AI4EU
AI4EU is an on-demand AI platform. It pools together 80 partners across 21 countries.
Funded with Euro 20 million, AI4EU is a project that will run for three years. Its actions will focus on the use of AI for robotics, healthcare, cybersecurity, agriculture and IoT, among other things. AI in healthcare in Europe is a great promise, and when built with agriculture, it could change a number of things.
Basically, it seeks to make the benefits of AU available to all.
11. Hubs to kickstart collaboration
The European Commission is trying to bring together various entities to build digital innovation hubs. PwC, Carsa and Innovalia are joining hands in this effort.
They will build a network of collaborations across the EU and work synergistically. That would also boost the AI jobs in Europe.
Does all this make Europe a clear winner?
No. Nothing can.
AI is too complex to say this so soon.
Here’s what the post is trying to say: it’d be a capital mistake on the part of China, the US or anyone else to say Europe is nowhere in the AI race.
Europe has repeatedly made clear that it wants a safe AI, an AI with ethics. So Europe may be fighting a few battles that China or the US aren’t.
One thing is sure: Europe is giving a tough fight in Artificial Intelligence.