AI and the rapidly-changing strategic context for AI policy

AI today is intertwined with European policy ambitions for a healthier, wealthier, more sustainable society. Rapid progress in machine learning over the last ten years has raised aspirations for the potential of AI technologies to deliver innovative solutions to major scientific and societal challenges and deliver social and economic benefits. These aspirations are reflected across EU policy agendas, from the Green Deal to the AI Act, which position AI as both a priority policy area itself and an enabler of progress towards a thriving economy, sustainable environment, effective public administration, and healthy society.

National, regional, and international developments in the years since publication of the EU’s White Papers on data governance and AI have brought renewed focus to efforts to grow Europe’s AI ecosystem. The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated a demand for AI that can be immediately deployed to solve pressing public policy challenges across a range of domains. It also showed how interdependencies across global supply chains have created strategic vulnerabilities. 2022’s energy crisis, and continuing pressures on European energy systems, highlighted again the importance of transitioning to sustainable energy sources.

This transition requires strategies for the stable delivery of energy from green sources at times of peak demand, raising new questions about both the use of AI to support the green transition and the resources consumed by large-scale AI systems. At the same time, conflict in Ukraine has demonstrated new security vulnerabilities relating to data and digital infrastructure. Across these policy domains – public health; supply chains; energy; security; and more – issues of public interest, technological sovereignty, and AI capabilities interact. In response, governments and parliaments around the world are seeking mechanisms to advance national interests in AI and hold AI leaders accountable for their use of data-enabled technologies. The result is an urgent need to deliver Europe’s AI agenda.

Responding to policy ambitions for a European AI ecosystem rooted in excellence and trust, in 2021 ELISE’s Strategic Research Agenda set out a vision for a powerhouse of European AI. This Agenda provided a roadmap to connect advances in AI research with policy priorities, building a research ecosystem that secures European technological sovereignty.

It focused on three shared goals at the AI research-policy interface:

  • To be a world leader in AI and ensure that Europe has capability in a technology of strategic importance, Europe needs to be at the forefront of AI innovation, leading a new wave of innovation to deliver AI that is technically advanced.
  • To translate the benefits from these technical advances to positive social and economic outcomes, AI needs to be robust in deployment.
  • To ensure all in society benefit from progress in AI research and adoption, AI technologies need to align with societal interests.

ELISE’s strategic approach is to accelerate progress at the frontiers of AI development, create methods that ensure AI technologies can be deployed safely and effectively, and connect AI capabilities to areas of societal need. ELISE research programmes provide a mechanism for delivering these goals. Alongside the agendas pursued by these programmes, five cross-cutting themes provide a framework to bridge from specific techniques or applications to the wider strategic landscape for AI development. Those themes focus on AI trustworthiness; security and privacy; explainability and transparency in AI; AI integration into existing systems; and the ethical and societal interests associated with AI development.

Trustworthiness & Certification

Security & Privacy

Explainability & Transparency

Integration Into Existing Systems

Ethical & Societal Interests

Across these themes, ELISE’s focus is advancing techniques and applications in machine learning. This field has catalysed recent excitement about progress in AI and underpins many of the AI systems in widespread use.

Alongside these research programmes, ELISE initiatives to encourage AI adoption in industry, build skills and attract talent across research and industry, and enhance research collaboration across Europe have translated the network’s research to benefits for communities, businesses, and society. With 39 units across 14 countries, collaborations with the ELLIS network have provided an infrastructure to bring together Europe’s leading AI researchers.

Two years since the publication of ELISE’s Strategic Research Agenda, this document reflects on progress across the network. It highlights ELISE’s approach to creating a powerhouse of European AI through action to advance European AI research and nurture a thriving AI ecosystem. Building the bridges between AI research and policy identified by the previous Agenda, it explores what technology needs emerge from current policy priorities, and it considers progress made so far in the areas for action identified in 2021.

< Read the 2021 report
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Progress toward a European AI powerhouse