Report summary

The European Union’s visions for a healthier, wealthier, more sustainable society are intertwined with its ambitions for artificial intelligence (AI). Those ambitions seek to ensure European research excellence in this strategically important technology area, to generate economic and societal benefits through AI adoption across sectors, and to create an ecosystem of trust that aligns AI progress with public interests.

Achieving these ambitions is vital in securing European sovereignty in AI; a strategic imperative that invokes the full AI development pipeline, from the manufacture of chips and hardware to the governance of data, to success in research, and the translation of this research to AI-enabled companies that can operate on a global scale. The ELISE network is building a powerhouse of European AI that can deliver these goals.

By accelerating the technical capabilities of AI technologies, improving their performance in deployment, and aligning AI development with societal needs, the first phase of ELISE’s work has already nurtured a thriving research and innovation community. Building on these successes, this refresh of its Strategic Research Agenda shows how sustained investment can ensure the long-term success of this innovation ecosystem.

ELISE’s 2021 Strategic Research Agenda set a roadmap for the development of AI technologies that can deliver European policy priorities. By identifying shared areas of interest between AI research and policy, this agenda provided a framework for creating a powerhouse of European AI. Since publication of this framework, ELISE has been leading the development of an ecosystem of excellence, delivering AI that is ‘made in Europe’ through a research agenda that reflects technical and policy priorities, and through translation and engagement activities to build a world-leading European AI community.

In its first three years of operation, ELISE has already:

  • Generated research insights and applications, driving forward a new wave of AI innovation.
  • Created a world-leading infrastructure for advanced education, providing a gateway for high-potential researchers from around the globe to access education and research in Europe.
  • Supported innovation and entrepreneurship to take AI innovations from research to practice, working across sectors and industries to help companies benefit from access to insights from the frontiers of technology development.
  • Enabled mobility between top European labs, increasing connectivity to help build a European AI community.
  • Responded to the need to operationalise AI governance principles by developing tools and techniques for trustworthiness by design, for example in the areas of fairness, explainability, and robustness.
  • Catalysed new funding and programmes to help grow the European AI ecosystem over the long-term.

Over this period, both policy needs and technological capabilities have continued to evolve. Taking stock of the lessons that emerge from these changes, this Strategic Research Agenda Refresh looks at how technological progress is shaping AI’s role in priority policy areas. Research from the network has created new techniques for trustworthy AI; security and privacy; explainability; AI integration into existing systems; and human-centric, responsible AI.

The next wave of research progress should ground these new techniques in theory and advance their application, generating powerful new technologies that are supported by responsible innovation practices to deliver real-world benefits for science and society.

The EU’s Innovation Missions highlight the benefits at stake

AI could enhance diagnostics and treatments for cancer, increasing quality of life for patients and their families. It could provide more accurate forecasts of the impacts of climate change for cities and regions, helping city administrations and citizens take action to increase their climate resilience. It could produce management tools to support ocean protection efforts, increasing understanding of marine ecosystems. It could enable monitoring systems to support soil health, while delivering new understandings of this vital natural resource.

Its analytical power could provide insights and simulations that help cities transition to climate-neutral, sustainable ways of living and working. Translating these benefits from theory to practice requires action to advance the technical foundations and deployability of AI technologies, and align their design with the needs of human users; to accelerate end-to-end innovation through collaborations across sectors and industries; to connect AI development to the interests of affected communities; and to build an infrastructure for AI research that enables access to data, compute, and skills.

Research from the ELISE network has already contributed new tools for public health policy, for understanding the impact of climate change, for accelerating scientific research, and more. These achievements scratch the surface of what might be accomplished with sustained investment. The rapid technological change that underpins recent high-profile advances in AI capabilities, in particular Large Language Models, signals the progress that could be possible in the coming years. ELISE’s research is accelerating progress at these technological frontiers, led by world-leading researchers across Europe. Building on its first phase of work, ELISE will continue to deliver on its agenda for a new generation of European AI, advancing AI technologies that are technically innovative and sophisticated, safe and effective in deployment, and aligned with social needs. Combining this research agenda with its successful initiatives to deliver high-quality advanced education, translate research insights to real-world benefits through collaboration with industry, and foster new research collaborations, ELISE’s network will nurture a world-leading European AI community.

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AI and the rapidly-changing strategic context for AI policy