Artificial Divide: How EU and US Could Cooperate On But Also Clash Over AI

Written by | Tuesday, February 16th, 2021

A glance at the history of artificial intelligence (AI) shows that the field periodically goes through phases of development racing ahead and slowing down – often dubbed “AI springs” and “AI winters”. The world is currently several years into an AI spring, dominated by important advances in machine-learning technologies. In Europe, policymakers’ efforts to grapple with the rapid pace of technological development have gone through several phases over the last five to ten years. The first phase was marked by uncertainty among policymakers over what to make of the rapid and seemingly groundbreaking developments in AI. This phase lasted until around 2018 – though, in some European states, and on some issues, uncertainty remains. The second phase consisted of efforts to frame and AI challenges politically, and to address them, on a domestic level: between 2018 and 2020, no fewer than 21 EU member states published national AI strategies designed to delineate their views and aims, and, in some cases, to outline investment plans.

The next phase could be a period of international, and specifically transatlantic, cooperation on AI. After several years of European states working at full capacity to understand how to support domestic AI research, including by assembling expert teams to deliberate new laws and regulations, there is growing interest among policymakers and experts in looking beyond Europe. On the EU level, AI policy and governance have already received significant attention, with the European Commission playing an important role in incentivizing member states to develop AI strategies, such as by starting to tackle issues around how to make sure AI is “ethical” and “trustworthy”. But recent months have seen a rise in the number of calls for international cooperation on AI driven by liberal democracies across the world. Western countries and their allies have set up new forums for cooperation on how to take AI forward, and are activating existing forums. More such organizations and platforms for cooperation are planned.

Calls for cooperation between the United States and Europe have become particularly regular and resonant: following last year’s US presidential election, it was reported that the European Commission planned to propose a “Transatlantic Trade and Technology Council”, which would set joint standards on new technologies. And, in September 2020, the US set up a group of like-minded countries “to provide values-based global leadership in defense for policies and approaches in adopting AI”, which included seven European states, in addition to countries such as Australia, Canada, and South Korea. In June 2020, the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence was founded to consider the responsible development of AI; it counts among its members the US, four European states, and the European Union.

There are a number of reasons why European states want to work with the US on AI, and why the US may want to reach out to Europe on the issue. But, of course, there are also points of disagreement that may stop the allies from fully fleshing out transatlantic AI cooperation. Overall, while both sides are interested in working together, their rationales for doing so differ. Furthermore, economic and political factors may stand in the way of cooperation, even though such cooperation could have a positive impact on the way AI develops. To that end, transatlantic cooperation in the area of military AI could be a good first step – here, Europe and the US should build on existing collaboration within NATO.

In short, both Europe and the US have reasons for wanting to cooperate with each other on AI. But substantial hurdles may prevent the transatlantic partners from cooperating in a significant way. However, they can still look to ramp up their cooperation. And non-combat military AI, in particular, may be low-hanging fruit for AI cooperation within NATO. Europeans should reach out to their American allies, so that a new, third phase of Europe’s policy efforts in this AI spring can indeed become a phase of international – and particularly transatlantic – cooperation.

‚Artificial Divide: How Europe and America Could Clash Over AI‘ – Policy Brief by Ulrike Esther Franke – European Council on Foreign Relations / ECFR.

The Policy Brief can be downloaded here

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