future view

"We are in danger of falling behind worldwide"

10 December 2018 • 4 min reading time

For years artificial intelligence (AI) developed in the shadows. Now it is flourishing and has become today’s news. Three influential Dutch people give their views on the future of AI. Do they see opportunities or risks? If there are opportunities, how can we utilise them? And what about the ethical aspects?

René Penning de Vries is the figurehead of the Dutch Top Sector ICT and has previously earned his spurs in business. He compares the rise of AI with the invention of the petrol engine: "It changed the world with an enormous increase in horsepower. This new key technology is doing the same with thinking power.”

VNO-NCW chairman Hans de Boer and CEO of TNO Paul de Krom say almost the same thing: "AI has great potential. We must keep up with developments to keep the Dutch economy competitive.” De Boer adds: "And to continue to provide prosperity in which everyone shares.”

Platforms and free market

That does not mean that there are no questions. De Boer mentions the rise of platforms such as Alphabet, Alibaba or Facebook: "They make plenty of use of AI and thereby build up a monopoly position as a supplier of goods. They are also becoming monopsonists, the only buyer of a certain product in a market, which is leading to an erosion of the free market. This prompts questions, such as whether the government should not take measures in such companies.”

Penning de Vries refers to the massive storage and use of data by platforms and governments as a problem: "This happens without many citizens being aware of it. European privacy legislation wants to curb this, but it is still not working sufficiently. Although it does reflect Europe's commitment to privacy protection and the ethical use of AI.”

The promises of AI

But De Boer, Penning de Vries and De Krom say we shouldn’t forget the great benefits of AI. There are plenty of examples: from better diagnoses for certain types of cancer to more efficient logistics and many more possibilities that we have not even thought of yet. We must, they conclude, make the most use of the opportunities and solve the threats and bottlenecks of AI.

De Krom: “It is also about a coherent national approach, in which talent development, research and valorisation reinforce each other”

Actually, we can't even do anything else. The three mention, independently of each other, striking figures. The United States has invested some 24 billion euros in AI over the past five years, China 9 billion and Europe over 2 billion. "We are in danger of falling behind worldwide," says De Boer. "There is now a sense of urgency and we recognise that we have to keep up with developments. That is why we have also made a first start with the AINED coalition that brings together knowledge institutions, government and industry to work on a national AI strategy.”

De Krom suggests that this is not just about money: "It is also about a coherent national approach, in which talent development, research and valorisation reinforce each other".

Role of the US and China

The three also agree on the goals of the different countries. The US wants to leave AI mainly to the business community, while China, for example, sees opportunities to use AI for administrative purposes.

De Boer: “The EU is a large market with hundreds of millions of consumers with purchasing power. This means that the world has to sit up and take notice of us”

And Europe and the Netherlands then? The Netherlands is too small to act on its own, says De Boer, who is making a plea for more European cooperation: "The EU is a large market with hundreds of millions of consumers with purchasing power. This means that the world has to sit up and take notice of us. We can set standards.”

Cooperation in the Netherlands

We can use this position to steer AI applications in the right direction and, among other things, to better guarantee privacy and personal freedoms. The Netherlands has the knowledge and culture for this, says De Krom, and TNO can play a role in this: "Healthcare is an example. We have knowledge about privacy protection, about technology in the field of AI, about knowledge of human behaviour, about medical expertise and about the associated business models.”

De Krom then points to the successful collaboration between government, industry and knowledge institutions in developing and applying innovations: "This collaboration in what we call the triple helix has already proven its worth in other innovations, and this may also be the case now." De Boer mentions the consumer as an extra party: "He must also think about where his interests lie and consciously deal with his data in the free market of supply and demand.

De Krom: “The concept of ethical target functions allows people to determine the goals of an AI system, while the thinking power of the computer can be optimally utilised”

Target functions

Great ideas, but how do you make the transition to practice? De Krom points to the concept of the ethical target functions. “These allow people to determine the AI goals while making optimal use of their thinking power. Because people ultimately decide what the AI system will do, it is an effective way to apply it ethically. Moreover, it is commercially attractive to be so distinctive. At TNO we expect interest from Dutch and foreign parties in our knowledge of this.”

Think about sharing data

It's about the balance, says Penning de Vries: "What happens to the data that many people share without thinking? Who benefits from this and under what conditions? AI will contribute to prosperity and wellbeing. Think of smarter use of the rail network, better health or more efficiency in production chains. But then you have to get it right, especially in the area of privacy protection.”

Penning de Vries: “What happens to the data that many people share without thinking? Who benefits from this and under what conditions?”

And that can only be achieved if we ensure there is coherence and cooperation. The Netherlands, the three say, has the culture, the databases and the knowledge to successfully deploy AI. Penning de Vries: "Moreover, trust is needed for sharing data. Something that is available in sufficient doses in the Netherlands. ”

Would you like to know more?

Would you like to talk more about Artificial Intelligence and our applications? Please contact Peter Werkhoven.

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