Following the path of digitalization in Slovenia and Europe: Will the EU ‘finally’ exploit the potential of AI?

The European Parliament adopted the final recommendations of the Special Committee on Artificial Intelligence in a Digital Age (AIDA) on Tuesday, May 3rd, 2022. The latter notes that the EU is lagging behind the global competition for technology leadership and the development of artificial intelligence. While MEPs want the EU to become a global standard-setter in this area, the EU needs to step up its game to make up for the significant gap to achieve this goal and do so quickly.

We have already written about what AI is and how it works. We have already presented some practical examples, such as using artificial intelligence to optimise processes in supply chain management and helping save wildlife and our planet. However, this time, we will look at this area from a slightly more regional perspective.

What is the EU doing to achieve leadership in artificial intelligence, and what opportunities does it have? Which countries lead in this ‘game’, and do we already have a winner? What are the goals of the National Programme for the Promotion of Development and Use of Artificial Intelligence in the Republic of Slovenia by 2025 (NpUI)?

Recommendations of the AIDA Special Committee

After 18 months of gathering insights on artificial intelligence, the Special Committee on Artificial Intelligence in a Digital Age (AIDA) proposed an EU Roadmap for AI in its final report, which European Parliament adopted on May 3rd, 2022. The roadmap offers a holistic approach for a standard, long-term approach to artificial intelligence based on fundamental EU values and objectives.

The report states that the EU has fallen behind in AI development, research, and investment and needs to step up its game as AI is essential for the EU’s digital transformation and will continue to have an ever-growing impact on the economy and day-to-day life. Based on what has been written, the public debate on the use of artificial intelligence (AI) should focus on the technology’s enormous potential to complement human labour.

Everyday and potential uses of AI  Photo source:
Everyday and potential uses of AI.

MEPs have identified policy options that could unlock AI’s potential in health, the environment and climate change, help combat pandemics and global hunger, and enhance people’s quality of life through so-called personalised medicine. They also explained that artificial intelligence, combined with the necessary support infrastructure, education, and training, can increase capital and labour productivity, innovation, sustainable growth, and job creation.

Risks associated with the use of an AI system

At the European Parliament’s plenary session, MEPs also highlighted some of the potential risks associated with AI technology and called on like-minded democracies to jointly shape this international debate. They emphasised that AI technologies could pose important ethical and legal questions and expressed concerns about military research and technological developments into lethal autonomous weapon systems.

Parliament points out that some AI technologies enable the automation of information processing at an unprecedented scale, paving the way for potential mass surveillance and other unlawful interference in fundamental rights. MEPs note that authoritarian regimes can use AI systems to control, exert mass surveillance and classify their citizens or restrict freedom of movement.

“This profiling poses risks to democratic systems. The EU should therefore prioritise international cooperation with like-minded partners in order to safeguard fundamental rights and at the same time cooperate on minimising new technological threats,” the European Parliament’s website states.

President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen visits the AI Xperience Center at the VUB (Vrije Universiteit Brussel). Photo: Shutterstock.
President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen visits the AI Xperience Center at the VUB (Vrije Universiteit Brussel).
Photo: Shutterstock.

Lead MEP Axel Voss (EPP, DE) said: “With this report, we clearly show AI will be a booster for digitalisation and a game-changer in global digital competition. Our AI roadmap puts the EU in a position to take a global leadership role.”

Voss added that the EU now has a unique opportunity to promote a human-centric and trustworthy approach to AI – one that is based on fundamental rights, which manages risks while taking full advantage of the benefits AI can bring to the whole of society. He believes we need a legal framework that allows for innovation, a harmonised digital single market with clear standards, maximum investment, and a robust and sustainable digital infrastructure that all citizens can access.

Critical view and a three-pronged strategy

Robert Veldhuizen, an intelligence analyst at the strategic advisory firm Sibylline, which provides organisations with tailored information to increase organisational resilience and decision advantage, is a little more critical of the EU’s success. He believes that we are still a long way off the EU’s stated ambition of being a world leader or “standard-setter in AI”.

On the pan-European media network Euractiv, Veldhuizen wrote: “The European Union (EU) has consistently underestimated and neglected the issue of AI. The cavalier and dismissive attitude towards the subject is perhaps best exemplified by the decision to form a special rather than permanent committee [AIDA] as if issues surrounding AI are likely to fade off the radar any time soon.”

Falling behind in the global AI race means “the risk of European values being globally replaced, our companies becoming marginalised, and our living standards being drastically reduced,” the report said. Therefore, if Europe is serious about wanting to catch up with other countries in the field of AI, it must come up with an urgent plan to make up for the lost time. According to the OECD AI Policy Observatory, AI strategy documents have already been drafted by 62 countries worldwide, some of which have taken longer than others.

The United States, for example, published its strategy “as late as” 2019, but it is currently attracting the most significant amount of venture capital investment in AI firms. On the other hand, China already decided in 2018 to become the global leader in AI by 2030 and has claimed several successes already. For example, China created the company ByteDance, which developed the social media phenomenon TikTok.

Veldhuizen: "For Europe, instead, a coherent, unified strategy document remains elusive, and successes have been few." Photo: etiketamagazin.
Veldhuizen: “For Europe, instead, a coherent, unified strategy document remains elusive, and successes have been few.”
Photo: etiketamagazin.

Last year, former Pentagon software chief Nicolas Chaillan told the Financial Times that China has won the artificial intelligence battle with the United States and was heading toward global dominance because of its technological advances. According to Western intelligence assessments, China is likely to dominate many of the critical emerging technologies within a decade or so, particularly in artificial intelligence, synthetic biology and genetics, the international news agency Reuters reported in October 2021.

“For Europe, instead, a coherent, unified strategy document remains elusive, and successes have been few,” says Veldhuizen, citing an AIDA committee report that only eight of today’s top 200 digital companies are domiciled in the EU. These statistics give scale to the challenge facing Europe regarding AI. The analyst at Sibylline suggests that the EU should accelerate the adoption of artificial intelligence through a three-pronged strategy.

A three-pronged European strategy and the Slovenian NpUI programme

“The first priority must be to continue nurturing the European AI start-up ecosystem through continued investments in innovation.” According to a report published last year by the Joint Research Centre and the OECD, such investments must facilitate the transformation of “AI concepts into successful products and services.” In other words, investments need to be made to ensure that innovations actually make it to market,” Veldhuizen says.

“If the EU is serious about catching up on AI adoption, a crucial second pillar of its strategy must be to encourage importing ready-made solutions from reliable trading partners such as the US and UK.” Adopting tried and tested innovations from abroad makes sense, especially if they can bridge existing gaps in AI adoption or capabilities.

“The third objective of the EU’s strategy should be a unified approach. While several countries within the EU27 are yet to publish their national AI strategies, the EU should already be at work to achieve a coherent synthesis of these policy papers,” stated Veldhuizen. Only by working together can the EU take the lead in AI, which could strengthen their calls for ethical guidelines and regulations surrounding this technology.

What is the situation for artificial intelligence in Slovenia? At the end of May 2021, the Government of the Republic of Slovenia adopted and approved the National Programme for the Promotion of the Development and Use of Artificial Intelligence in the Republic of Slovenia until 2025 (NpUI). “With the adoption of the national programme, Slovenia has joined the EU countries, which have already prepared national strategic guidelines in the field of artificial intelligence and committed to joint cooperation in this field at the EU level,” written on the website. Slovenia will build on its many years of experience and knowledge from our experts in this field.

The objectives of the NpUI program are to establish adequate support for research and use of artificial intelligence through enhanced and systematic networking of relevant stakeholders, which will be achieved through education and financial incentives for the public and private sectors. The programme also aims to strengthen technological and industrial capacity in the AI area, respond to socio-economic changes such as changes in the labour market and educational system, provide an appropriate ethical and legal framework and increase citizens’ confidence in artificial intelligence.

Author: Rok Žontar

Keywords: AI, European Union, strategy, AIDA, NpUI.


This article is part of joint project of the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies and the Anton Korošec Institute (INAK) Following the path of digitalization in Slovenia and Europe. This project receives funding from the European Parliament. 

The information and views set out in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the European Union institutions/Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies/ Anton Korošec Institute. Organizations mentioned above assume no responsibility for facts or opinions expressed in this article or any subsequent use of the information contained therein.