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EU seeks 'responsible' AI to dispel Big Brother fears

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Brussels (AFP)

The EU unveiled its strategy for artificial intelligence on Wednesday as Europe jumps to catch up to the US and China and dispel fears of Big Brother control.

From household robots to facial recognition, AI will be the technology of the future and Europe is eager to play a central role in defining the rules as well as pushing its own champions.

"We want the application of these new technologies to deserve the trust of our citizens," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told reporters.

"This is why we are promoting a responsible, human-centric approach to artificial intelligence," she said.

EU officials widely acknowledge that Europe missed the first internet revolution with an online world dominated by Silicon Valley's Google, Facebook and Apple, as well as Chinese players like Tencent.

To avoid repeating the past, the AI roadmap proposed on Wednesday is the first step in a long road to legislation, with Brussels hoping for draft laws by the end of the year.

The far-ranging plans will face furious lobbying from corporate giants and governments and will require ratification by European Parliament. The heads of Google and Facebook already made their views known during recent visits to Brussels.

"Artificial intelligence is not good or bad in itself. It all depends on why and how it is used," said the EU Commission's executive vice president on digital policy, Margrethe Vestager.

AI reproducing "human language can make a chat bot... and give us a better consumer experience, but it can also be used to create fake news," she told a news conference.

The commission, the EU's executive arm, will first and foremost seek to repeat the success of its landmark GDPR regulation that has become a global standard for protecting data privacy online.

- 'Battlefield'-

The EU said trust would be a guiding principle for AI in Europe, with higher-risk uses in health, security or transport facing stricter demands on transparency and human oversight.

Lower-risk users would be largely left alone, but eligible for a voluntary labelling scheme if they apply higher standards.

The other ambition will be to create a single market for data where companies and universities could have free access to the mountain of data that drives AI.

Risking the anger of big corporations, the EU is considering forcing tech giants to share their data or face sanctions, which would require a change in anti-trust laws.

"The battle for industrial data starts now and Europe will be the main battlefield," said the EU's Industry Commissioner Thierry Breton.

"Europe has everything it needs to be a leader," the former tech CEO added.

Even though facial recognition is one of the most controversial examples of artificial intelligence, the EU stepped back for asking for a ban of its use.

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