OPEN’s new report explains how AI could help EU institutions become more capable, competent, cost-effective and closer to citizens
Europe’s productivity performance is woefully inadequate. But the development and deployment across the economy of artificial intelligence (AI) tools could provide a big boost, benefiting citizens, businesses and public administrations – not least the EU institutions, the focus of this report.
One big obstacle to Europe making the most of AI is exaggerated fears about its economic and ethical impacts. While AI will displace some jobs, it will also create new ones while freeing many workers from drudgery and making them more productive. And while the use – or abuse – of AI may also pose thorny ethical issues, these can be dealt with through appropriate regulation as and when necessary.
It would be a mistake to deny Europe the huge opportunities of AI by focusing solely on its potential downsides; far better to try to seize the benefits of innovation while managing the risks. All the more so because the EU now faces a new world of geopolitical rivalry between the United States and China in which technology is a key battleground and Europe is often a laggard.
Governments around the world are just starting to make use of AI, but their investments in it are growing fast. As a complex, confederal and cosmopolitan union, the EU has a particularly large potential to benefit from AI. AI could help create an ever-cleverer Union that is more capable, more competent, more cost-effective and closer to its citizens.
The EU institutions lack the human resources to interact directly with most of the 500 million Europeans. This distance between the institutions and citizens fosters concerns about a democratic deficit and makes the institutions unhealthily reliant on member-state governments and intermediaries as go-betweens. While AI cannot solve such political problems, it can attenuate them. For example, chatbots could allow EU citizens to communicate with the institutions, with more challenging queries passed on to human operators.
Both chatbots and better data collection and analysis could also help make EU institutions more responsive to European citizens’ needs. The institutions could extract more information about public opinion from social media, for instance, while also consulting the public more widely on legislative proposals, instead of relying on intermediaries and lobby groups. President Emmanuel Macron used AI tools to synthesise the contributions of many thousands of French citizens on how to respond to the gilets jaunes (yellow vest) protests.
As well as bringing EU institutions closer to citizens, AI could improve the competence of their decision-making. The Commission is increasingly overloaded with licensing and certification decisions. To avoid delays and focus resources more effectively, AI tools such as natural-language processing could be used to scan huge volumes of data more promptly and effectively about, for instance, new vehicles’ emissions. More comprehensive and better analysed data could also aid with bigger-picture policy decisions, such as how best to achieve the EU’s climate-change objectives. AI could help make the EU’s Green New Deal a success.
In addition, AI could make the EU institutions more capable and cost-effective. AI tools could boost the speed, reduce the cost and expand the comprehensiveness of translations and interpreting, thus improving the transparency and accountability of EU decision-making. They could also improve the timeliness and accuracy of Eurostat statistics. And AI tools such as predictive analytics could be used to facilitate planning and improve forecasting – not least of EU budgeting and how best to allocate resources in preparation for wherever a crisis may next arise.
Cognitive processing could help ensure the better use of EU funds, not least in public tenders. Cognitive and natural language processing could also allow better monitoring of national and subnational laws and business decisions to ensure better compliance with, for instance, Single Market regulations.
In all these areas, AI could free EU officials of repetitive tasks, making their jobs more rewarding.
The new von der Leyen Commission plans to prioritise legislative action on the “human and ethical impacts of AI”. This is an important and legitimate topic. At the same time, the new Commission should prioritise the use of AI in the EU institutions.
This would not just help create an ever-cleverer Union that is more capable, more competent, more cost-effective and closer to its citizens. It would give policymakers and officials first-hand experience of the capabilities and pitfalls of AI. That would help them strike the right balance between seizing the huge opportunities of AI for European citizens, businesses and public administrations and addressing any ethical concerns that are not properly addressed by existing regulations.
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