Summary of the EU AI High-Level Conference: From ambition to Action

On September 14th and 15th 2021, the Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the European Union hosted a High-Level Conference on Artificial Intelligence entitled “From ambition to Action”.

The event gathered together many high-level politicians, researchers, journalists, scholars, members of the European Commission and MEPs, but also members of other International Organisations such as the OECD, the Council of Europe and UNESCO, who were invited to discuss the EU Commission’s proposal for an Artificial Intelligence Act (AIA).

In fact, this conference was one of the first institutional and public events to discuss the progress and shortcomings of the Commission’s proposal on AI regulation.

In this respect, all the stakeholders involved acknowledged that this proposal represents a big step forward. Many welcomed the risk-based approach adopted by the Commission it its AI regulation proposal. The flexibility of the proposal was also well received by a large number of stakeholders.

Over the two days, many participants highlighted the need to strike a balance between innovation, on the one hand, and respect for fundamental rights, on the other. The main purpose of the AIA must be to create the conditions for human-centric and trustworthy AI, as stressed by the French Secretary of State for the Digital Transition and Electronic Communications, Cédric O, among others.

Other participants were more critical about using AI to process biometric data, in particular remote biometric identification technology. This view was endorsed, in particular, by Italian MEP Brando Benifei. Other speakers, including Michael O’Flaherty, Director of the Fundamental Rights Agency, highlighted the threats that AI technology poses to human rights, among which one of the most important is the right to life.

Many participants insisted on the need for the EU to foster innovation in AI. Indeed, Europe is lagging behind the United States and China when it comes to AI-based businesses. According to Commissioner Thierry Breton, the EU has the human and scientific resources to become a leading player in AI. In his view, the AIA will foster innovation as it will create legal certainty for industrial stakeholders and SMEs.

According to some entrepreneurs, the main problem with AI in the context of the EU is that scientific knowledge and assets do not translate into business, due to a lack of investment. This issue is not directly related to the regulation debate despite some participants expressing that too much regulation around new technology might discourage innovation.

Furthermore, the two-day event was the perfect opportunity to introduce certain initiatives in order to encourage international cooperation around AI regulation.

Indeed, during the Conference, the European Commission publicly launched the International outreach for human-centric artificial intelligence initiative which aims to use dialogue to help promote the EU’s vision on a Human-centric and trustworthy AI.

In parallel, the OECD launched the same day its AI Policy Observatory, which is intended to be a transdisciplinary source of information for people interested in AI.

This High-Level Conference on AI was therefore an important milestone in the ongoing discussion on the adoption of the final version of the EU regulation and, more generally, the challenges that political leaders must address when regulating the use of AI. It paves the way for the forthcoming discussion between the EU Council of Ministers and the European Parliament around EU legislative procedure.

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