The European Digital Strategy: Risks and Benefits of AI and Open Data

In February 2020, the European Union (EU) announced the European Digital Strategy, which will drive innovation and digitalization in the EU. With the US and China moving forward with technological innovations and leading global markets, the EU aims to maintain its global competitiveness by capitalizing on open data and emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI). This will help develop the EU’s digital economy. At the same time, the EU’s goal is to become a global role model regarding the responsible use of technology as it looks for ways to secure data privacy and human rights while also extracting value from new technologies. EU leaders are therefore walking a fine line between the benefits and risks of AI and open data.

Open Data and the EU’s Digital Economy

Open data, meaning data that is freely accessible and created or commissioned by the public sector, could become one of the EU’s cornerstones in the development of an efficient, profitable digital economy. The benefit of open data is that it can be accessed, used, reused, and redistributed by anyone. At present, open data is largely generated by public bodies while private companies oftentimes withhold free access to their data. If the free flow of information increases, the EU’s digital economy has the potential to grow. Estimations suggest that open data can contribute billions of euros to the EU market. Companies could improve their services or even base most of their products on open data by gathering intelligence, offering market insights, and providing business strategy consultations. This can create new value and drive the EU’s economic agenda. A digital economy based on open data can also create new jobs, specifically in the data and technology sector as the demand for data scientists increases. This rapidly rising need of data scientists, however, could also create shortages of data-skilled professionals on the job market. Hence, the unfolding of the digital strategy should go hand in hand with the promotion of technology and data-focused education.

The Benefits of AI and Open Data

AI will play a significant role in analyzing large amounts of open data. The more data AI tools are fed, the more likely it is that predictions are comprehensive and accurate. In order to generate AI-based high-quality results, the entered data must meet the following criteria: large volume, extensive variety, and sufficient veracity. In sum, the more reliable and diverse data is entered into the system, the better the results will be. Such quality prediction can not only enhance business services, such as risk assessments for supply chains, but also increase public safety. The European Data Portal notes that the police could merge AI and open data in order to enhance crime prevention. Al algorithms can identify patterns and make predictions regarding crime hotspots, for instance. Thus, burglaries and violent crimes could potentially be reduced.

The Risks of AI: Legislation and Data Privacy

While access to data can drive innovation, EU policymakers must ensure that the utilization of public and private data is in accordance with data privacy regulations. In order to avoid data privacy infringements, the European Commission issued a white paper on the utility and regulation of AI on February 19, 2020. Margarethe Vestager, the Executive Vice President of the European Commission for a Europe Fit for the Digital Age, advocates distinguishing high-risk and low-risk uses of AI. High-risk utilization applies to the healthcare, transportation, energy, and government sectors. The EU seeks to avoid AI-based preferences for critical socioeconomic issues such as granting loans or diagnosing diseases. Yet the lines between what can be categorized as a high risk or a low risk are sometimes blurred, as the public and private life of citizens often overlaps. Therefore, EU policymakers should hone their concept of various risk levels in practice. It is important to agree on what data can be entered into AI systems to produce predictive results, as this can affect individuals, companies, or entire organizations.

Outlook: Data as a Battleground

Open data in combination with AI is a double-edged sword. While data that anyone is able to use can drive the EU’s economy, it can also create uncertainties around data privacy and the safe use of AI. By promoting open access to public and corporate data, transparency and accountability levels can improve. Moreover, revenue for individual businesses could rise and the larger economy of a country or region could further develop. At the same time, one of the bigger risks is the misuse of analyzed data. AI predictions may limit some citizens’ access to insurance or financial services. They could also increase reputational risks for some companies operating in the EU, depending on what information AI systems produce. Yet as the EU’s white paper on AI demonstrates, European policymakers appear to be aware of the associated risks and may look for ways to foster innovation and digitalization while also promoting the responsible use of data.

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