Europe’s digital future: Robotics and artificial intelligence

Here, we chart some of the European Commission’s policies around robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) that will positively shape Europe’s digital future

The European Commission’s policies on the areas of robotics and artificial intelligence will continue to positively shape Europe’s digital future.

In the upcoming Horizon 2020 calls, future plans for robotics and its vast roles are more important than ever, and the European Union has Four Priority Areas (PAs) targeting: healthcare inspection and maintenance of infrastructure, agri-food, and agile production.

Cécile Huet, Deputy Head of Unit Robotics & Artificial Intelligence, and Directorate-General for Communication Networks, Content & Technology at the European Commission explained in a presentation, what the definition of Agile production is exactly Under Horizon 2020: “Agile Production refers to robotic production systems that operate quickly and adaptively in dynamically changing work contexts, adapting to varying work tasks and varying workpieces. The term “Agile” refers to speed and adaptation in combination and is related to the system’s execution of a task or the speed with which reconfiguration or adaptation to a different task can be carried out.” (1) “Agile Production” includes anything that is made, all manufactured goods, food, clothes, shoes, pharmaceuticals, craft items, components and assemblies, buildings, and more.

This perfectly demonstrates one of robotics’ vital roles in the fast-paced modern digital age. Everyday life relies heavily on all four of these PAs therefore focussing on and developing them will only strengthen the potential for growth, jobs, and innovation in Europe. The fast-developing market and rapid increase in the use of robots in our homes and at work, in hospitals and industrial environments provides an inspiring vision about how they can benefit society as a whole.

There are numerous reasons why the funding of robotics research and innovation is vital to today’s world, such as:

• Essential for productivity and competitiveness.
• Reindustrialisation, ageing workforce.
• Essential to address societal challenges.
• Health, ageing population, environment, security.
• Growth potential.
• Service markets, double-digit growth.
• Autonomous systems transforming ICT.
• In addition to ICT, automotive and other sectors.
• Advanced robotics is one of the key drivers of digital innovation.

Huet also went on to outline the four core technologies when it comes to autonomy in robotic systems, which are AI and Cognition, cognitive mechatronics, socially cooperative human-robot interaction, and model-based design and configuration tools.

Artificial intelligence (AI) has become an area of strategic importance and a key driver of economic development bringing the possibility of solutions to many societal challenges from treating diseases to minimising the environmental impact of farming. However, socio-economic, legal and ethical impacts must be carefully addressed. Therefore, the European Commission has stated that it is essential to join forces within the European Union to stay at the forefront of this technological revolution, to ensure competitiveness and to shape the conditions for its development and use (by ensuring respect of European values).

This European approach to AI will boost the European Union’s competitiveness and ensure trust based on European values. The European Commission has already invested significant amounts to bring benefits to our society and economy. In its Communication “Artificial intelligence for Europe”, the Commission puts forward a European approach to Artificial Intelligence based on three pillars:

• Being ahead of technological developments and encouraging uptake by the public and private sectors. (The Commission is increasing its annual investments in AI by 70% under the research and innovation programme Horizon 2020. It will reach €1.5 billion for the period 2018-2020.) The reason for this is to connect AI research centres across the EU and platform the individual efforts of those involved.
• Prepare for socio-economic changes brought about by AI. The Commission will support business-education partnerships to attract and keep more AI talent in Europe, set up dedicated training and retraining schemes for professionals, support digital skills and competences in (STEM), support entrepreneurship and creativity, and encourage Member States to modernise their education and training systems.
• Ensure an appropriate ethical and legal framework. On 19 February 2020, the European Commission published a White Paper aiming to foster a European ecosystem of excellence and trust in AI and a Report on the safety and liability aspects of AI. (2) The White Paper proposes measures that will streamline research, foster collaboration between Member States and increase investment into AI development and deployment. It also proposes policy options for a future EU regulatory framework that would determine the types of legal requirements that would apply to relevant actors, with a particular focus on high-risk applications.

The importance of the final of three these pillars is reinforced by the Head of Unit, Directorate-General Communications Networks, Content and Technology (DG connect) at the European Commission Marco Marsella, who stated in an interview with us; “To have a meaningful and trustful relationship with digital transformation, trust is, therefore, very important. Everything related to digital data has this component of safety, privacy, security, and trust.” (3)

References

1. https://ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/en/news/robotics-upcoming-horizon-2020-calls-information-and-brokerage-day
2. https://ec.europa.eu/info/files/commission-report-safety-and-liability-implications-ai-internet-things-and-robotics_en
3. https://edition.pagesuite-professional.co.uk/html5/reader/production/default.aspx?pubname=&edid=e7e65f16-14bb-415e-a4a7-84c443d8db40&pnum=14

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