Conceptual image representing AI with digital connections reaching outside the frame

Conference on Artificial Intelligence: The European Approach to AI

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The “CONFERENCE ON ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE: THE EUROPEAN APPROACH FOR CITIZENS’ WELLBEING” was held at the European Parliament in Brussels on the 19th of November, 2019. Organized by the Italian National Council for Research (CNR, Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche) with the aim of raising awareness of the growing impact of artificial intelligence on society, the conference was chaired by our CEO Erika Widegren.

It is so important that the CNR brought this issue precisely in the seat of the European parliament. A strategy on these issues can only have a European dimension because of the critical mass that is necessary to really shift the equilibria within technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning. The enhancement of ethical aspects such as respect for human rights and the values that have always characterized the European Union is also a crucial aspect to be taken into account in future decisions on these topics.” stated Patrizia Toia MEP, during her welcome address.

Daniela Rondinelli MEP, added: “Although the impact that these technologies will have in the medium and long term is not yet completely clear, there is obviously a need for legislation that creates an ethical and anthropocentric path to technological development, which will benefit the human being and the quality of his life.

Massimo Inguscio, president of the CNR, said: “More than sixty years ago Enrico Fermi was the first to suggest the production of a computer in Pisa, therefore starting the digital revolution in Italy and the CNR is a leading institution in the research and development of digital technologies. It is now the task of European Union to provide Europeans with a model of development which stands for the human wellbeing, a model that encompasses our traditional values.”.

During his keynote speech, Roberto Viola, Director General of the Directorate General of Communication, Networks, Content and Technology (DG Connect) of the European Commission affirmed: “Europe has to play an important role as the developer of its unique kind of artificial intelligence, taking its perspective from the values that characterize our institutions. I think AI can be a positive addition to human capabilities in many circumstances, as for example today it is in precision agriculture for which it is a win-win situation: it optimizes resources consumption and spares environment form massive pesticides infusions. Competition on AI just started and we have world class scientists and infrastructures but we need to unite our forces: the challenge is to big for a single actor such as a region or even a whole country.”.

After Mr Viola’s keynote speech Marco Conti, director of CNR’s IIT (Istituto di Informatica e Telematica), introduced the first panel (“European policies for Artificial Intelligence”) that had a strong focus on the need for a more multidisciplinary approach to new technologies, on the urgency of guaranteeing the transparency of the algorithms that govern our daily life and of ensuring that all citizens have the opportunity to access the benefits connected to digital technology. The other speakers of the panel were Jeroen van den Hoven, professor of Ethics and Technology at Delft University of Technology, Paul Lukowicz, Professor of Embedded Intelligence at the Johannes Kepler University of Linz, and Patrick Gatellier, AI4EU project coordinator.

After the first panel, a special speech by Dino Pedreschi, Professor of Information Technology at Pisa University and member of the Re-ImagineEuropa Management team, followed. Professor Pedreschi stated: “As we have seen through the polarization of public debate, AI mechanisms that are built to maximise platform profits may have very negative side effects: to interact with people that have opinions close to ours reinforces our convinctions which may be rewarding from a selfish perspective but it’s a fact it destroys the debate that is a vital element of democracy, creating de facto bubbles of superpolarization that exacerbate conflicts and fuel extremisms.”.

Kalina Bontcheva, Professor of Text Analysis at the University of Sheffield, introduced the second panel (“Excellent science on the road to realise the AI vision”) whose main topic was the building of an open ecosystem where Big Data Mining can be done by everyone interested in it. The achievements of the first part of the SoBigData project, of which Re-Imagine Europa is a knowledge Partner, were therefore presented in detail. All of the research infrastructure features were explained with particular focus over ethicity and transparency. Other speakers included in the panel were Fosca Giannotti, director of Research at ISTI (Istituto di Scienza e Tecnologie dell’Informazione) of CNR, Aristides Gionis, Professor of the Department of Computer Science of Aalto University, and Marlon Dumas, Professor of Software Engineering at the University of Tartu.

Peter Dröll, Director for Prosperity at the Directorate General for Research and Innovation of the european commission gave the first closing remark. During his speech, he affirmed: “We had 26 thousands projects running with more than 40 thousand participants and we’re still convinced we should invest more resources , researching ways to tackle all the risks connected to the safety and ethicity issues to which the current development of technologies exposes us”.

Paolo Borchia, MEP, closed the conference pointing out: “There are still many concerns over the loss of job positions that the introduction of AI in various sectors can fuel. Some researches tell us that in 40% of sectors the human contribution to the productive activity could be completely excluded within a few years”.

In the afternoon, a side event was held at the representation of the Tuscan region to the European commission, in order to illustrate the characteristics of the SoBigData research platform and the development plans of the project for the second phase, which will begin in the early months of 2020.