What are we trying to achieve? Our main goal is to strengthen AI research and innovation in Europe. To achieve this, we call for the establishment of a Confederation of Laboratories for Artificial Intelligence Research in Europe (CLAIRE), comprising a network of centres of excellence, strategically located throughout Europe, and a new, central facility that serves as a hub, providing state-of-the-art infrastructure, and fostering the exchange of ideas and expertise. We believe this is necessary and suitable for maintaining and building European excellence in AI.
Why is AI research so important for Europe? There are tremendous opportunities arising from the judicious use of AI, which is certain to become the next major driver of innovation, future growth and competitiveness. Many European countries are well-prepared for major deployment of AI technology, and it would be deeply problematic if this technology were mostly developed elsewhere.
Why does Europe have to act, and act quickly? There would be serious economic consequences if Europe were to fall behind in AI technology, along with a brain-drain that already draws AI talent away from Europe, to countries that have placed a high priority on AI research. The more momentum this brain-drain develops, the harder it will be to reverse. There is also a risk of increasing dependence on AI technology developed elsewhere, which would bring economic disadvantages, lack of transparency and broad use of AI technology that is not well aligned with European values. On the positive side, Europe has existing strength across all areas of AI, and presently, there is a great opportunity to leverage that.
Why should the public invest in AI Research? Can’t we just let others (e.g., companies) do that? We need AI made in Europe, for Europe, in order to ensure that the AI technology that is going to be widely used in European industry and society, and will affect everyone, is well aligned with European values. Companies play a vital role in this, but as was the case with sequencing the human genome, this is too important to leave to industry alone. The public has a major stake in this, and publicly funded research, whose results are owned by the public, needs to be on par with industrial research and development, motivated by economic profit.
Why is AI important for society? AI technologies provide the basis for reliable and efficient computer hard- and software, and they play a key enabling role in scientific research as well as in engineering. AI research and innovation will have major benefits across a wide range of application areas, including advanced healthcare, effective and sustainable agriculture, safe and efficient transportation, smart industry, next-generation Earth and space science, fair and transparent public administration, and others. As a consequence, AI is about to fundamentally transform the way we live and work.
How is CLAIRE connecting AI research and applications? After having built one of the largest networks of AI research groups and institutes in the world, CLAIRE has recently begun to work with key stakeholders from various application areas. This effort is guided by the five emerging mission areas of the EU’s “Horizon Europe” Framework Programme (climate change; cancer; healthy oceans and natural waters; carbon-neutral and smart cities; and sustainable food production) as well as by application domains closely connected to grand challenges, such as climate, energy and mobility; food and natural resources; health; and inclusive, secure societies. An ambitious collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA) has recently been kicked off with a joint CLAIRE-ESA Theme Development Workshop on AI for Earth Observation, a topic of key importance to research on climate change, in which Europe is world-leading.
What’s different in what we’d like to see happen in Europe compared to major AI initiatives elsewhere? As recognised early by the European Commission, it is important to strongly align AI research, innovation and deployment in Europe with shared European values. Therefore, Europe should focus on human-centred AI (explained further below). Furthermore, in contrast with major AI initiatives elsewhere, we believe it is crucial to support research excellence across the full spectrum of AI techniques, and to strongly focus on connections between them. In particular, combinations of learning and reasoning techniques are widely believed to be the key to further advancing AI.
What is human-centred artificial intelligence? Human-centred AI is strongly based on human values and judgement as well as on fundamental rights. It is designed to complement rather than replace human intelligence and takes multiple perspectives into account (e.g., societal, psychological, economic, technological and ethical perspectives). Human-centred AI is transparent, explainable, fair (i.e., it avoids hidden bias or discrimination), and socially compatible. It is developed and deployed based on careful consideration of the disruptions AI technology can cause.
Isn’t AI nowadays just machine learning? Absolutely not. Machine learning, and especially deep learning, has been getting a lot of attention recently, and rightly so, since it is an area of key importance within AI. However, AI is more than machine learning. For example, automated reasoning – an area of AI that deals with the kind of logical reasoning prominently found in IQ tests – has given us the ability to build extremely complex, yet reliable, bug-free computer hard- and software, including the specialised hardware used for cutting-edge machine learning. Many AI experts are convinced that the combination of learning and reasoning techniques will enable the next leap forward in AI; it also provides the basis for reliable, trustworthy, safe AI. The European AI community has strength across many areas of AI, notably machine learning and automated reasoning, and is therefore well-positioned internationally. It is only logical that a European AI initiative leverages that strength.
What’s the relationship between CLAIRE and ELLIS? Well, CLAIRE is a girl and ELLIS is a boy, so perhaps this is a boy meets girl story…? 😉 Seriously, we think what the ELLIS open letter calls for is very important, and in fact, it has inspired our vision. There is a shared desire to work together constructively, in order to increase transparency, and to improve the quality of execution and the impact of both initiatives. We are in close contact with our colleagues in ELLIS to define a coordinated approach, especially in our interaction with the European Commission. We have also made sure to involve supporters of ELLIS in our informal advisory groups (IAGs), notably IAG ML.
Can I sign even though I am not an academic? Yes! Although it has been initiated by academics, our initiative for European AI is meant to represent the interests of all those affected by the success of European AI. AI technology will soon affect everyone. Companies and organisations will increasingly rely on it, and the competitiveness of our economy will depend on AI systems and tools. So, if you read this, chances are that you should have an interest in European excellence in AI, and this is more than enough reason to sign.
Can I sign even if I don’t have expertise in AI? Definitely! If you are an expert (i.e., if you have Ph.D. level expertise or substantial professional experience in any area of AI), we ask you to indicate this, as the number of AI experts supporting our call will send an important signal. However, the issue at stake has substantial impact on non-experts, such as students, companies, and organisations that (will) use AI technologies, and the general public. If you care about “AI made in Europe”, the competitiveness of European industries that increasingly rely on AI techniques, or simply about “AI done right” (i.e., for the public good), you should support our initiative with your signature.
Can I sign even if I don’t live in Europe or work for a European employer? Absolutely! As this petition aims to encourage the EU and affiliated countries to create a European Laboratory for Artificial Intelligence, the most useful signatures are those from people living and working in Europe. However, if you feel that European excellence in AI, as outlined in our vision document, is important to you, personally or professionally, we’d like you to sign. More signatures will make it easier for us to get media coverage and to reach our target audience. When in doubt, it never hurts to sign, even if it’s just in solidarity.
Who will see my signature information? Certain fields will be displayed on the public signature page for all to see — in this case, your full name, your country, affiliation, position and whether you are an AI expert. Your email address is never displayed, and neither is any of the other information you provide. You are able to unsign whenever you want by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Of course, we will not use the information you provide for any purposes other than in direct support of the initiative. Your privacy is important to us!
Can my signature really make a difference? Do initiatives like this ever succeed? Yes, and yes! The politicians, officials and appointed experts that decide on large issues, such as the funding and regulation for artificial intelligence in Europe, are sensitive to public opinion and to the effects of their decisions on the AI community and stakeholders in AI (broadly defined). Conducting signature collection online allows us to regularise the process, ensure the quality and integrity of its results and reach more people. The effect of a petition goes far beyond the actual list of signatures. Journalists write stories about petitions, signers get inspired to take additional action.