EU to invest 1.5 billion euros in AI to catch up with US, Asia

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission will boost its investment in artificial intelligence by about 70 percent to 1.5 billion euros ($1.83 billion) by 2020 to catch up with Asia and the United States, which are each investing at least three times more than Europe.

FILE PHOTO: European Union flags flutter outside the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, March 12, 2018. REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo

Artificial intelligence promises to revolutionize sectors from healthcare to transport to agriculture and Europe is keen not to be left behind in the digital race.

The Commission, the EU executive, wants total private and public investment in AI to reach at least 20 billion euros by the end of 2020 to ensure the bloc retains competitiveness and does not face a brain drain.

In 2016 European private investments in AI totaled around 2.4-3.2 billion euros, compared to Asia’s almost 10 billion euros and America’s 18 billion euros.

“Just as the steam engine and electricity did in the past, AI is transforming our world,” said Andrus Ansip, Vice-President of the European Commission, on Wednesday.

“Today, we are giving a boost to researchers so that they can develop the next generation of AI technologies and applications, and to companies, so that they can embrace and incorporate them.”

Other European countries such as France and Britain have also made AI investment a priority. French President Emmanuel Macron promised 1.5 billion euros of public money for AI in March.

The Commission said its 1.5 billion-euro investment ought to trigger an additional 2.5 billion euros from existing public-private partnerships, for example on big data and robotics.

To help stimulate investment the Commission also proposed legislation to open up more public sector data for re-use, such as the data held by transport authorities and utilities.

The tech industry welcomed the AI initiative but cautioned that investment should not be hindered by burdensome regulation, for example a proposed restriction on text and data mining (TDM) by companies.

“If the EU wants to take full advantage of the benefits that AI is expected to bring to its economy and across all member states, it must free up data for machine learning by removing the limitations on TDM currently found in the copyright directive for entities that have lawful access to the content”, said Thomas Boue, Director General of Policy, EMEA, for BSA Software Alliance, which includes IBM, Microsoft and Oracle.

($1 = 0.8193 euros)

Reporting by Julia Fioretti, Editing by William Maclean