by Konstantina Mavrou, Columnist
In recent years, it is true that technology, due to various reasons, has developed rapidly and integrated into everyday life. The pandemic of Covid-19 -as a last cause- as well as the general need of reduction of resources and the requirement of eliminating distances, have led to the expansion of digitization, which is updating in regular intervals. Nevertheless, in this evolving space, and while Europe is considered as the “mother” of many sciences, we can recognize that it is constantly “losing ground” in the field of innovation and Artificial Intelligence (AI), leaving, therefore, America and Asia to take the lead. However, it seems that in the coming years, the “old continent” will be back in the game, after the voting and publication of many plans for the transition to the Digital Age.
What is Artificial Intelligence (AI)?
Artificial intelligence, also called “heuristic programming” or “machine intelligence” is when computers and -in general- electronic devices have the ability to perform tasks, such as decision making and visual perception, that, under normal circumstances, require a human brain. In other words, these machines are properly programmed to mimic human thinking and movement, approaching as close as possible “intellectuality” and “emotion”. Although it is considered as a present invention, its modern existence dates back to 1951. The first form used was for the famous computer games, chess and checkers. Specifically, the University of Manchester created two programs for the computer “Ferranti Mark 1”, which could play an entire game at a reasonable time as an opponent and even win against individuals. The term was, eventually, first used five years later, in 1956, by John McCarthy at a corresponding conference. Now, there are basically four types of ΑΙ, the limited memory, the theory of mind, the self aware and the reactive machines.
The advantages of Artificial Intelligence (AI)
The main advantage of AI is that it may has the “intelligence” -to the extent possible and as far as the algorithms allow- to do the, each time, required actions, but it does not include the negative effects of human psychology. The answers and the decisions are quick, since, in most cases, it works based on specific incidents, which have a unique conclusion, without any emotional process. The number of errors is reduced significantly, almost zeroed, with programs, while it is much easier to take risks and create new inventions, due to the lack of stress. At this point, it should be noted that the services are continuously available, since machines do not need breaks, sleep or refreshing time as humans do. Overall, it is ideal for daily “routine” works, which cause boredom and monotony to the majority of the employees.
The disadvantages of Artificial Intelligence (AI)
The principal disadvantage of AI is that it is quite costly, both in the initial installation and in the subsequent use. It is true that it is constantly evolving and because of that, the hardwares and softwares need to, also, be regularly upgraded, while the machines need repairing. The second weakness stems from the very “power” of the programs that is the absence of emotions. Unfortunately, due to the fact that there are specific actions and procedures for the algorithms to work, it is not possible to adapt to any unexpected events, as people can and do. Also about people, many are those who have lost their jobs and been replaced by machines, increasing the total unemployment of the population, a fact which is also a deterrent to AI.
Asia, United States and Artificial Intelligence (AI)
The leaders of AI are undoubtedly the United States and Asia, with countries such as China, Singapore and Japan to be at the forefront. In fact, a report of the World Intellectual Property Organization has shown that Japanese and American companies hold the highest AI patent portfolios, and Chinese research organizations make up 17 of the top 20 academic players in AI patenting and 11 of the top 20 in AI-related scientific publications. But, the innovation does not stop here. China, according to a Harvard Business Review Report, has already developed policies for the coming years related to this sector, such as the “Made in China 2025” and the “Next Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Plan”. The main purpose of everyone is to create a digitized society, which will facilitate the daily lives of citizens and increase productivity.
Why is Europe falling behind in technology?
Several are the “correct answers”, most of which focus on the lack of capital and the non-existence of a unified design. In the first part the main problem is not actually so much in finding the necessary money -even though obtaining services are quite costly- but in the decision to risk it and innovate. According to a 2018 report, while the United States (US) venture capital investment reached a record of 116.6 billion (bn) euros, in Europe this percentage reached only a 23bn, markedly lower than the US, almost 100bn behind. It is also characteristic that in the same year, out of the 27 (then 28) countries of the European Union, only France, Germany and Sweden, managed to be in the top 10, in the list of AI startups. This fear of investing stems -to a large extent- from the diversity between the countries of Europe and the European Union. There are states with well-developed technology, while others are still at an early stage. In addition, any wrong business move will significantly affect the other countries, which means that everyone must be very careful with his moves. After all, in order to avoid the adverse consequences, the “green light” in investments is given after multiple checks, in which the new idea must go through all the stages of the bureaucracy, in order to enter into force. But, as it is reasonable, along with the possible “difficult results”, the possible “developments” are gone too.
Europe and Artificial Intelligence (AI)
The general perception of the old continent is now encouraging towards AI and ready to fill the existing gap, with the European Union showing strong interest in the last -mainly- two years in this area. Important are the words of the Executive Vice President of the European Parliament, Margrethe Vestager, who emphasized the capabilities of Europe, pointing out that may “Some say that China has all the data and the US has all the money. But in Europe, we have purpose and a lot to build on”. In the same vein, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, adds by underlining the need “to put forward legislation for a coordinated European approach on the human and ethical implications of AI” in her first one hundred days in office and a little before the “White Paper on Artificial Intelligence – A European Approach to Excellence and Trust” was created. According to the document, a combination of regulatory precautions and technological innovation, the main building blocks to achieve the goals set are an “ecosystem of excellence” that mobilizes up to 20 billion euros of private and public sector resources and an “ecosystem of trust” that ensures legal certainty for public and private organizations as well as rules for protecting fundamental rights, consumer rights and safety. Specifically, there are three pillars: the strategic investment in AI and the fifth generation networks (5G), the storage of non personal data and the development of a legislative framework and lastly the “high risk” AI. Above all and as a guideline is the protection of personal information and privacy.
Innovation and consequently, the improvement are concepts inextricably linked to the mindset, the size, the geographical specifications and the needs of a population. Given this, it is not unusual that there has been a different technological development between Europe, Asia and America, if we also add on this, and the other cultural dissimilarities among them. Each one should and must grow according to its own standards and not try to incorporate actions of others, which surely can not thrive due to incoherence with citizens and with the environment in general. The old continent may be going slowly but it is steadily moving at it is own pace, taking into account the dangers of it is actions, especially in an area such as AI, which provokes reactions and division to the people. Progress, after all, is not calculated by the accomplishments of others, but by our own achievements that make us better than we used to be. Step by step we can achieve the goals we have set and at the end of the day, the meaning of the word “forward” does not lose its definition by the speed of the act.