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Government signs EU declarations on AI, blockchain and e-health

Matteo Natalucci Published 11 April 2018

European minsters discussed European technological development and co-operation at EU Digital Day

 

Margot James, minister for Digital and the Creative Industries and Lord James O’Shaughnessy parliamentary under secretary of State, Department of Health and Social Care have signed EU declarations on behalf of the UK Government on artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain and e-health. 

It follows a European Commission  “Digital Day”  held yesterday to discuss European technological development and co-operation in the three areas.

In the day’s activities, European ministers and representatives reiterated their commitment to complete the Digital Single Market, and agreed to work together more on AI, blockchain, e-health and innovation which are regarded as key focuses for Europe's technological future.

Discussions focused on how the technology can shape the future of Europe and building a strong Digital Single Market.

Vice-President of the European Commission Andrus Ansip said, " Today's commitments by Member States give a strong signal: we all understand that Europe's future is digital and that the only way to fully reap the benefits of new technologies is by working together, joining forces and resources.

By pooling health data, using artificial intelligence and blockchain and promoting innovation, Europe can significantly improve people's lives. Earlier and better diagnosis of diseases, safer roads – this is only a glimpse of what embracing digital change can look like .”

He added, “ People are starting to feel the benefits of tearing down digital borders: the end of roaming charges and unjustified geo-blocking, portability of online content. Stronger rules on the protection of personal data and the first EU-wide rules on cybersecurity will become a reality in May 2018.

“But we need to accelerate our efforts: key proposals, from the free flow of non-personal data to better connectivity, still need to be agreed by the European Parliament and Member States. They are essential for the development of technologies such as artificial intelligence. Europe also needs to invest more in digital, research and innovation”, Ansip said.

Artificial Intelligence

The UK and other twenty-three European countries pledged to band together to form a “European approach” to AI in a bid to compete with American and Asian tech giants.

Ministers signed a declaration on AI, saying they will consider putting public research funding into the technology.

All EU member states except for Croatia, Cyprus, Greece and Romania vowed to modernise national policies as part of an effort to develop large-scale AI research.

The signing parties agreed to cooperate on boosting Europe's technology and industrial capacity in AI and its uptake, including better access to public sector data to influence AI development, fuelling innovative business models and creating economic growth and new qualified digital jobs.

In particular, the signatories agree to work towards a comprehensive and integrated European approach on AI to increase the EU’s competitiveness, attractiveness and excellence in R&D in AI, and where needed, to review and modernise national policies to ensure that the opportunities arising from AI are seized and the emerging challenges are addressed.

Member states will also exchange best practices on procuring and using AI in government administrations of any size and at any level, and more generally in the public sector.

Ansip said, “In Europe, any successful strategy dealing with AI needs to be cross-border. A large number of Member States agreed to work together on the opportunities and challenges brought by AI. That is excellent news.”

“Co-operation will focus on reinforcing European AI research centres, creating synergies in research and development and innovation (R&D&I) funding schemes across Europe, and exchanging views on the impact of AI on society and the economy. Member States will engage in a continuous dialogue with the Commission, which will act as a facilitator,” Ansip said.

Blockchain

22 European countries, including the UK, signed a Declaration on European Partnership on Blockchain .

The signatories agreed to co-operate to establish the partnership with a view to developing a blockchain infrastructure that can enhance value-based, trusted, user-centric digital services across borders within the Digital Single Market.

Blockchain, it has been claimed, has the potential to create opportunities to enhance services in both public and private sectors, notably making better use of public sector information while preserving data integrity, and providing better control of data by citizens and organisations interacting with public administrations, reducing fraud, improving recordkeeping, access, transparency and auditability, within and across borders.

The Commission believes co-operation between member states for blockchain services and applications can avoid fragmented approaches and enable the development of interoperable frameworks for blockchain in Europe based on standardised solutions and governance models.

The Partnership will also be a vehicle for co-operation amongst European countries to exchange experience and expertise in technical and regulatory fields and prepare for the launch of EU-wide blockchain applications across the Digital Single Market for the benefit of the public and private sectors.

Blockchain, it is suggested, makes it possible to share on-line information, agree on and record transactions in a verifiable, secure and permanent way. The technology is already being successfully tested, mostly in financial services, and will become more operational and integrated into increasing number of digital services, such as regulatory reporting, energy and logistics in the coming years.

The European Commission also launched the EU Blockchain Observatory and Forum in February and has already invested more than £70m in projects supporting the use of blockchain in technical and societal areas. Around £260m more is to be allocated to blockchain by 2020.

Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, said, "In the future, all public services will use blockchain technology. Blockchain is a great opportunity for Europe and Member States to rethink their information systems, to promote user trust and the protection of personal data, to help create new business opportunities and to establish new areas of leadership, benefiting citizens, public services and companies.”.

Gabriel said, “The Partnership launched today enables Member States to work together with the European Commission to turn the enormous potential of blockchain technology into better services for citizens".

E-Health

The UK and twelve other European countries also signed a declaration to deliver cross-border access to their genomic information.

The signatory states committed to collaborate on the secure and authorised access to national and regional banks of genetic data and other data relevant for health.

Sharing more genomic data will improve understanding and prevention of disease, allowing for more personalised treatments (and targeted drug prescription), in particular for rare diseases, cancer and brain related diseases.

The declaration foresees in particular the possibility to bring together fragmented infrastructure and expertise supporting a shared and tangible goal (one million genomes accessible in the EU by 2022) and reach a larger cohort that will provide a sufficient scale for new clinically impactful research.

Also, the initiative aims to leverage and maximise the investments already made by member states, particularly in sequencing, bio banking and data infrastructure.

The Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Vytenis Andriukaitis said, “I welcome this initiative connecting genomic and other health data across the EU.”

Andriukaitis added, “This initiative can boost the development of public health for the benefit of EU citizens. It adds to data capabilities of the European Reference Networks, who started clinical treatment and research of rare diseases towards the end of last year, and improves clinical trials.”

The conference also highlighted the major progress made towards a Digital Single Market such as the end of roaming charges, the portability of online content, stronger rules on the protection of personal data and the first EU-wide rules on cybersecurity, which will become a reality in May 2018.  

Around £25bn in investment in the digital sector is set to be triggered thanks to the support of the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI). In addition, £12bn  under the European Structural and Investment Funds is being invested in digital technologies. From Spring 2018, local communities can apply for #WiFi4EU vouchers to set up free public Wi-Fi hotspots

 

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