Fri, Dec 01, 2017

Europe can lead the information revolution, but does it have the political will?

Many of the world’s economies have identified the “information revolution” as the most promising source of new growth. It has redefined the way that we use the traditional factors of production (capital and workforce), requiring a different and more advanced skill-set, as well as increasing productivity and enhancing competitiveness.

This information revolution has also largely been accelerated by the rapid growth of smart devices, faster internet, data analytics and cloud computing across the world, or in other words, by the growing use of DATA. The more data there is out there, the more we need to focus on being able to make sense out of all this generated information if we want to benefit from the digital transformation.

The promise for significant economic growth has unsurprisingly led large economies around the world to increasingly compete in this global race for data analytics. For example, JapanSingapore, Canada, and particularly China are investing heavily in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning, closing the gap with the US.

An incredible economic potential, conditioned by the adequate legal framework.

What all countries investing in AI have in common, beyond their plans to increase government investments in digital innovation, is that they also try to ensure that all the key players (developers, researchers, companies, users) can enjoy full legal certainty when it comes to being able to analyse and understand available data. To create value, we rely on the machines’ ability to “learn” by scanning, reading, listening or observing the data, which can often be human-created works (so protected by copyright). Many of these countries rely on a copyright regime that provides flexibility to use data in analysis and machine learning(to facilitate AI, for example, via Text and Data Mining).

So where does Europe stand in all this? Is the EU creating all the right conditions to harness the power of data and giving itself a chance to become a leader in the data economy?

In the UK, a recently published report written by Professor Dame Wendy Hall (Regius Professor of Computer Science, University of Southampton) and Jérôme Pesenti (CEO, BenevelentTech) puts forward a series of 18 recommendations to increase ease of access to data, to unlock the economic potential of AI, which could add an additional £630bn to the UK economy by 2035. On Text and Data Mining, they recommend the following:

To support text and data mining as a standard and essential tool for research, the UK should move towards establishing by default that for published research the right to read is also the right to mine data, where that does not result in products that substitute for the original works. Government should include potential uses of data for AI when assessing how to support for text and data mining”.

Vice President Ansip recently confirmed in a blog post, that the European Commission plans to present a European strategy on robotics and AI early 2018, as requested by EU Leaders in October this year. As VP Ansip correctly identifies “access to data is vital for training and improving AI systems”, but his list of important policy initiatives that underpin the development of AI (i.e. free flow of data; accessibility and re-use of public and publicly funded data; high-performance computing; cybersecurity; privacy and quantum computing) fails to include an important one: the TDM provisions in its Copyright Proposal.

In fact, we have seen worrying signals coming from the European Commission on this issue: if the EU does not move away from its current restrictive approach on TDM, the Copyright proposal will not be future-proof. All this is likely to increase the innovation gap Europe already has with other regions and contradicts the European Commission’s own objectives laid out in its mid-term review of the DSM Strategy, particularly those that aim to help EU startups “scale up quickly, with full use of cloud computing, big data solutions”.

The EU has the talent and curiosity to lead the world in innovation.

But what if this next European champion was one of these data analytics startups that aspire to grow out of Berlin, Paris or Warsaw? The risk is that without embracing this next digital transformation, Europe’s most promising startups will be forced to pursue work on data analytics and machine learning outside Europe if they want to continue to grow, once again aggravating the exodus of EU talents.

It is up to Europe to shape its future.

It is an opportunity and the responsibility of policy-makers and stakeholders to help it do so. We hope that the EU chooses prosperity and progress. The alternative would be to miss out on a critical part of the technology of tomorrow.