Artificial intelligence is changing the world at an extraordinary rate. Advances in technology are making fundamental impacts within months, rather than years. The challenge is for businesses, regulators and societies to keep up.

The 2019 European Business Summit in Brussels brought together some of Europe’s most influential voices, representing policy makers, academia, engineers, project managers and businesses leading the way in AI.

The clear message: AI represents a once in a generation opportunity, and we have to get it right.


First, the good news.

Artificial intelligence will increase employment – it will create more new jobs than it replaces. It will free people from repetitive tasks, and allow us more time to do what humans can do best: make decisions, find solutions, and create.

AI will have the potential to help us solve the biggest challenges facing humanity – climate change, sustainable development, and inequality.

The Embracing the Artificial Intelligence Revolution panel at the European Business Summit, 2019

… and fears

But there are risks if we don’t use AI in a socially responsible way.

Although AI will be a net creator of jobs, the nature of those jobs will change. It is essential we equip the people who will be most affected with the right skills to succeed. The skills traditionally seen as soft will become the new hard skills, as the old hard skills are automated.

Like any technology, AI can be used unethically. AI is only as good as the data that is fed into it, and if that is manipulated or falsified, then the outcomes can be damaging.

Ethical AI

That is why it is so important to get the governance and regulation of AI right.

Human-centric AI is at the heart of the approach taken by both the European Union and Tata Consultancy Services(TCS). The question must always be how can AI work for the benefit of people, rather than how can people work for the benefit of AI.

Andrea Renda, Senior Fellow at CEPS, is one of those tasked by the European Commission with formulating ethical principles and guidelines that can be applied to artificial intelligence.

At this stage he and his colleagues are running pilot programmes and consulting widely with stakeholders across business and society to find a balance between regulation, and fostering innovation and global leadership. He stresses that digital technologies like AI must always be a means to a bigger goal, and never an end in themselves.

Sunil Prashara speaking at the European Business Summit, with Hadas Gold, Andrea Renda, Lora Borissova, Amit Bajaj.

Who owns the data?

As Amit Bajaj, CEO Europe at TCS, points out, many of the key questions around AI governance revolve around the ownership of data. If you use a search engine, should the data about that search belong to you, or to the search engine provider? When vast data sets are collected about every aspect of our lives, whoever owns the data controls the keys to the kingdom.

That brings the risk of data inequality. How can a start-up compete on a level playing field with a tech giant who has data on billions of people, that it is claiming as its own?

There are a number of possible solutions, from assigning data ownership to the individual, to the creation of vertical value chains that reward the initial collector of the data, to an open system where anonymised consumer data is available to all. Whatever framework we develop will have far reaching consequences.

A question of trust

A priority is that people are able to trust artificial intelligence.

Karin Van Hoecke, General Manager of Digital Transformation at KBC, explains that for financial institutions that trust is the bedrock of their entire business. Organisations like banks have access to our most sensitive data. They must therefore be very selective and careful with what they choose to do with it, always being open and honest with the customer so that they have fully informed consent. Where that trust exists, the benefits to both sides can be enormous, as KBC has found with its very popular apps and mobile services that are making everyday transactions easier and more convenient for its customers.

Human firewall

Another safeguard for AI is the role of what Amit Baja calls the “human firewall”. Some decisions, especially those that will have a significant effect on people, or involve levels of judgement and discretion that are beyond the scope of algorithms, should always be left to a person. Where AI can make those decisions quicker, cheaper and more accurate is in sifting and processing the information used to make the decision. But the final word shouldn’t belong to a machine.


Can Europe keep up?

Europe’s ambition is to be the world leader in artificial intelligence. And it is investing significant amounts of money to support the development of AI technologies. The European Commission expects that, with the right political will, Europe will be spending €20 billion a year on AI by 2020.

But is that enough? The United States has a head start on adopting AI, and China is pouring vast resources into catching up. There is a risk that while Europe is restrained by the need to balance the socio-economic effects of AI, others may not.

But already the EU has shown leadership in data protection and privacy. GDPR has become a gold-standard that is gaining significant international support. The path to success may not be embracing the AI revolution as such, but embracing a sustainable development revolution that makes the best use of AI and other digital technologies.