Calling all AI makers, EU’s €20m developer playground is now live

18 Feb 2019

Image: © tongpatong/

Launched in January, the AI4EU project aims to make Europe a one-stop shop for all things AI, uniting many different research strands.

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When it comes to the development of artificial intelligence (AI), it seems all goals are not equal on a global scale, with superpowers such as the US, China and Russia all becoming world leaders in various aspects of the technology. While one may be writing the rulebook for how to produce consumer tech, another is weaving AI into society on a microscale.

But within the EU – where more than 20 nations are trying to develop their own AI systems – a recently launched project is noticeably more ethics-focused than some other industry and governmental initiatives.

AI4EU is a €20m project funded under Horizon 2020. Launched in January, it aims to create a collaborative AI platform for economic growth, as well as mobilise the entire AI community for social change.

Fed by eight pilot experiments – which cover citizenry, robotics, industry, healthcare, media, agriculture, internet of things (IoT) and cybersecurity – the project is a massive endeavour comprising 79 groups in 21 partner countries. Leading the charge will be Thales, the Paris-based electronics and technology developer.

A European alliance for AI

As one of Europe’s leading AI policymakers – and certainly one of Ireland’s leading AI proponents – Prof Barry O’Sullivan of University College Cork and the Insight Centre for Data Analytics has been named as an executive board member on AI4EU.

Speaking with, he explained just what it could bring to the table for AI development in Europe.

“It’s a place for people who get to use other people’s tools. It’s an on-demand platform for AI that hasn’t been there in Europe before,” he said.

“It will be a brokerage for datasets from all over Europe that can be available through that platform and as a go-between or integrator across the European AI communities … to create this European alliance for AI.”

There is also set to be financial benefits for some with €3m being made available as part of a funding programme for new projects, initiatives and start-ups to get their own ideas off the ground.

While not an advertised purpose, the unifying of Europe’s previously disconnected AI workings is an intentional strategy by the EU as it aims to find a strong voice wedged in between the current national AI superpowers.

EU not lagging behind

Although, according to O’Sullivan, any suggestion from within the EU that it is ‘losing’ the AI race would be ill-judged.

“I’ve been in touch with those in the US writing an AI strategy, and they say the US is way behind Europe, so everybody seems to think that they’re behind everyone else, all of which is absolutely true,” he said

“Infrastructure is well-developed in the US and China with large-scale GPU [graphics processing unit] clusters and hardware infrastructure to meet their needs. Europe has some ground to make up there, but Europe is far stronger in B2B AI, such as industrial robotics.”

On top of that, AI4EU plans to run a total of 15 major AI events across the union over the course of its three-year span (likely including one in Ireland) with O’Sullivan hoping to use his vast experience of the European scene to make them happen.

“I work a lot across Europe, I know who the various participants are and I have some experience in terms of the remit and scope of each of these organisations and what their sensitivities are,” he said. “Hopefully I can bring that to the project to make that successful.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic