What the European Union's Shifting Digital Future Means for Organizations

Nicholas J Price
Europe is taking the lead of the digital future in the world. The European Commission for a Europe Fit for a Digital Age plans to build on its history of technology, research, innovation and ingenuity with an eye on global collaboration for the future of digitization. With a particular focus on strong protection of rights, fundamental values, and building new policies and digital frameworks for all, Europe has plans to deploy cutting-edge digital technologies and to strengthen its capacity for cybersecurity.

While Europe bills itself as a trusted leader in the data economy, other industry leaders, particularly US corporate leaders in the tech industries, feel as though they may be moving too fast. Several leaders from the Silicon Valley have made trips to the European Commission to discuss the new efforts and plans, express their concerns and offer some food for thought. Corporate leaders in the US are concerned that the new initiatives in Europe are being pursued hastily and without regard to thinking about the risks to society and the potential impact on innovation. Corporate leaders have invested heavily in research for artificial intelligence and these efforts could stall their current efforts.

Europe Paves the Way as a Technology Leader

The President of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said: 'Today we are presenting our ambition to shape Europe's digital future. It covers everything from cybersecurity to critical infrastructures, digital education to skills, democracy to media. I want that digital Europe reflects the best of Europe ' open, fair, diverse, democratic, and confident.'

The European Commission describes its approach to improving digitization as globally competitive, value-based and inclusive while being an open, rules-based market. The Commission has made it clear that it intends to work closely with its international partners. They desire to use digital tools to support the principles of an open, democratic, sustainable society.

The European Commission has expressed its goals to present a European society that's powered by digital solutions that put people first, opens up new opportunities for businesses and boosts the development of trustworthy technology.

The Commission plans to be intentional about its plans to develop new digital frameworks that they believe will benefit citizens and businesses in many ways. Over the next five years, they have three goals, which are:
  1. Develop technology that works for people
  2. Use digitization to create a fair and competitive economy
  3. Work toward an open, democratic and sustainable society

Von der Leyen gave the Vice President of the European Commission, Margethe Vestager, only 100 days to release an initial proposal on artificial intelligence. Vestager notes European ways are more assertive in regulations than the United States. For example, she notes that several pesticides and herbicides that are used in agriculture are legal in the United States, but illegal in Europe.

Great Britain also revealed its plans to create a new government regulator to oversee internet content.

US Corporate Leaders in the Silicon Valley React to the News

Several corporate leaders in the United States recently made visits to the European Commission to learn more and discuss their concerns, particularly in the area of artificial intelligence.

Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google's parent company, Alphabet, was the first to take the overseas trip to meet with members of the Commission. Shortly thereafter, his trip was followed by that of Apple's senior vice president for artificial intelligence, John Giannandrea, and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

The lawmakers in the European Union are debating a new digital policy that includes new rules on how artificial intelligence can be used by companies. Tech leaders in the United States are concerned that it could have implications that are far-reaching for many industries, especially tech giants that have created whole departments devoted to artificial intelligence.

As with any initiative that comes with uncharted territory, there is agreement that there needs to be a balance between regulation and innovation.

Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Alphabet Inc., gave a speech in Brussels in which he emphasized the need to ensure proper oversight without hindering the progress that companies are making to develop artificial intelligence breakthroughs. Specifically, Pichai expressed his concerns over inhibiting innovation and technology replacing people in their jobs too quickly. In addition, Pichai and other corporate leaders feel that the 100-day deadline is far too aggressive to create meaningful, successful regulations. Pichai warned the commission that there could be lasting economic consequences if the Commission were allowed to do too much at this time.

Furthermore, if history is any indication, the corporate leaders of Silicon Valley have concerns that Europe is setting standards on tech policy and regulation too early and that other countries will mirror them. The European Union has already passed laws on digital privacy and has penalized Google and other companies over antitrust matters.

The first draft on artificial intelligence is soon to be released, with broader recommendations outlining strategy in the coming years. Leaders of the European Commission expect to host debates on it through 2020. Many of the regulations are expected to outline riskier uses of the technology, including healthcare products, advancements in transportation such as self-driving cars, and other dangerous products that will come under tougher government scrutiny. Vestager notes some of the dangers of artificial intelligence come from products that require consumers to trust complex algorithms to make decisions based on vast amounts of data.

According to a PricewaterhouseCoopers report, 44 various organizations have published recommendations on ethical artificial intelligence since 2018. The federal government in the United States proposed allocating $1.1 billion for research for artificial intelligence.

Tech giants like Alphabet, Apple and Facebook compete heavily for top talent in the field of artificial intelligence. New rules could impose heavy consequences for these and other tech companies. Apple is already using artificial intelligence in such products as Siri and Face ID. Google also uses it for its internet search engine and in its self-driving cars. Facebook also uses artificial intelligence in its advertising business.

As discussions will surely continue throughout 2020, many industries will weigh in. The benefit of many perspectives will hopefully produce regulations that work well for companies and all their various stakeholders.
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Nicholas J. Price
Nicholas J. Price is a former Manager at Diligent. He has worked extensively in the governance space, particularly on the key governance technologies that can support leadership with the visibility, data and operating capabilities for more effective decision-making.