AI in Europe: Who’s leading the way and where is it heading?

14 Jun 2021

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Ireland may be the big adopter of AI in the EU, but a new report from Forrester suggests Europe is still slightly behind other regions.

Artificial intelligence is often slated as the technology that will transform the way we live and do business. But some have embraced it more than others.

Among EU countries, Ireland has the highest share of businesses using AI applications.

That’s according to European Commission data from 2020, which found that 23pc of enterprises in Ireland used any of these four AI applications: analysing big data internally using machine learning; analysing big data using natural language processing, generation or speech recognition; using a chatbot or virtual agent; or using service robots.

Overall, 7pc of enterprises in the EU with at least 10 people employed used at least one of these AI applications in 2020.

Behind Ireland, the countries with the widest uptake of AI tech were Malta (19pc), Finland (12pc) and Denmark (11pc). At the other end of the scale were Cyprus (3pc), Hungary (3pc), Slovenia (3pc) and Latvia (2pc).

A recent report from research and advisory company Forrester said there’s a widespread perception that data privacy regulations, ethical concerns and reluctance to adopt cutting-edge tech have resulted in European companies being less advanced in terms of AI adoption that companies in other regions.

A 2020 survey it conducted with responses from data decision-makers in France, Germany and the UK confirmed that there is a lag, but the gap may not be as wide as many perceive it to be.

However, compared with people from other parts of the world, European respondents were less bullish overall about the benefits of AI, according to Forrester.

While 31pc of North American decision-makers surveyed said the benefits of AI were increased automation and improved operational effectiveness, only 28pc of European respondents said the same.

One-third of those in North America said it could also increase revenue growth and improve customer experiences, but only 27pc of those in Europe agreed.

Forrester added that while Europe produces AI excellence, it has trouble scaling start-ups.

Large European companies including Airbus, Bosch, Rolls-Royce and Siemens have been innovating with AI, and Europe has been the birthplace of start-ups such as DeepMind and Featurespace.

However, many start-ups have been acquired by companies outside of the region (with Google snapping up UK-based DeepMind, for example) or have migrated their headquarters to the US.

But the EU is keen to give AI a boost. The European Commission aims to reach an annual investment of €20bn over the course of this decade to help Europe become a global leader in this area of tech. At the same time, it is focusing on making AI ethical and human-centred.

Much like how it took the baton on data protection laws, the European Commission is hoping to set new oversight standards in a bid to create ‘trustworthy AI’.

Earlier this year, it outlined a new set of proposals that would classify different AI applications depending on their risks and implement varying degrees of restrictions.

So while other regions may be slightly ahead of Europe when it comes to AI uptake, Forrester’s report said that European companies are not lagging far behind and the bloc is certainly leading the way in terms of its focus on ethics and trustworthy AI.

Sarah Harford was sub-editor of Silicon Republic