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Artificial intelligence is revolutionising our future: opportunities and challenges

Written by Nera Kuljanic with Sara Suna Lipp,

© metamorworks / Adobe Stock

Artificial intelligence (AI) is likely to impact the future of almost every industry and all our lives. This is why it is highly important to keep Members of the European Parliament informed about the latest developments, as well as the challenges and long-term impacts of this technology. To support Members in their work, STOA (the Parliament’s Panel for the Future of Science and Technology) continuously monitors the newest developments and it has produced 20 publications and hosted several events in the last two years on themes related to AI and its applications. Before delving into specific areas of AI applications, the latest STOA study on AI provides an accessible and extensive overview of developments in AI techniques, explaining how they work, the associated impacts and regulatory measures.

AI is one of today’s hottest topics and, due to its strategic value, is ranked very high on the EU agenda. The number of files on AI in progress at the European Parliament only illustrates the amount of activities expected in this area for the coming year. While AI and its applications open up great opportunities, many related risks and ethical concerns are subject to intense discussions at many levels.

AI and (public) health

AI technologies are transforming the fields of public health, biomedical research and medicine. The coronavirus crisis is an example of how AI applications can provide an immediate response to the pandemic. A recent STOA publication investigates ten technologies to fight coronavirus, including AI applications to tackle Covid‑19 and provide potential tools for fighting future infectious outbreaks. AI applications are used to help track the spread of the disease in real-time, predict new clusters, search drug databases and even analyse CT scans. Furthermore, AI is widely used in biomedical research and medicine. Long a focus of AI development, AI diagnosis and treatment of diseases were discussed in a STOA workshop organised in February 2019, and in a recently published ‘at a glance’ on AI and dementia.

AI and disinformation

The rise of disinformation in the digital age poses serious threats to society, democracy and business; the EU therefore pays special attention to tackling disinformation by acting at the European level. Two sequentially published STOA studies assess AI and its applications related to disinformation. One study examines how algorithms are used to detect, contain and counter online disinformation. The study provides policy options emphasising the need to support research and innovation, a multi-stakeholder approach, to improve the transparency and accountability of online content, and raise standards in media and journalism. The other study covers the trade-offs of using AI algorithms to prevent disinformation. The different policy options presented underline the interactions between technological solutions, freedom of speech and media pluralism.

AI opportunities, challenges and ethics

While AI already benefits our daily lives on many levels, including more effective healthcare, transportation and decision-making systems, it also poses legal, social, economic and ethical challenges. Furthermore, public opinion, hopes and fears are even more important in the discussion about future AI applications. Our in-depth analysis ‘Should we fear AI?‘ presents varying perspectives on this issue in a collection of opinion papers based on a workshop STOA organised in October 2017. Furthermore, the use of AI in media was the theme of the STOA Annual Lecture 2017, which investigated the challenges and the opportunities that arise with the use of algorithms in systems that create, manage and distribute information.

Transparency, explainability and responsibility; privacy, data protection and informed consent; misuse; military applications and security are some of the issues that are discussed in more detail in our publications:

In addition, past STOA events have addressed topics such as ethical and legal frameworks, governance challenges, and the European approach to AI. Also, check out our two-pagers on thought-provoking future scenarios: How could AI change employment? What if AI-enabled face recognition was used to monitor emotions? Can algorithms obey ethical rules? And what if technologies had their own ethical rules? You can also explore more detail and watch short videos on AI on our website.

Follow us on Twitter to stay in touch and for information about our newest publications and upcoming events!

About Scientific Foresight (STOA)

The Scientific Foresight Unit (STOA) carries out interdisciplinary research and provides strategic advice in the field of science and technology options assessment and scientific foresight. It undertakes in-depth studies and organises workshops on developments in these fields, and it hosts the European Science-Media Hub (ESMH), a platform to promote networking, training and knowledge sharing between the EP, the scientific community and the media. All this work is carried out under the guidance of the Panel for the Future of Science and Technology (STOA), composed of 27 MEPs nominated by 11 EP Committees. The STOA Panel forms an integral part of the structure of the EP.

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