Artificial Intelligence and Ethics in EU-funded Projects

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Artificial Intelligence is the aim or the enabler in many ongoing EU-funded projects and upcoming Calls for proposals. On the EU level, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is perceived as the key element of economic growth and competitiveness. AI is one of the most important applications of the digital economy based on the processing of data. At the same time, the human and ethical implications of AI and its impact on various research areas are being highlighted.

For this reason, the issue of Artificial Intelligence and Ethics is addressed on different levels within the EU – from policy, over legal and regulatory to research and development.

Artificial Intelligence and Ethics: a policy framework

The cornerstone document outlining the EU’s approach to Artificial Intelligence and Ethics is the European Commission’s White Paper On Artificial Intelligence – A European approach to excellence and trust. This document presents “policy options to enable a trustworthy and secure development of AI in Europe, in full respect of the values and rights of EU citizens”. The White paper builds on top of two main aspects:

  • the policy framework
  • the key elements for a future regulatory framework

The first element focuses on the “ecosystem of excellence”, trying to capitalize on potential benefits of AI, across all sectors and industries. This part addresses the research an industrial infrastructure in EU and engages the potential of its computing infrastructure (e.g. high-performance computers). The document clearly states: “the centres and the networks should concentrate in sectors where Europe has the potential to become a global champion such as industry, health, transport, finance, agrifood value chains, energy/environment, forestry, earth observation and space.”

Artificial Intelligence and Ethics: a regulatory approach

The second element addresses the potential risks AI may present and aims to propose adequate safeguards. To ensure the proper balance between Artificial Intelligence and Ethics, the Commission created a discussion platform organized around the High-level expert group on artificial intelligence. The Group already identified several key requirements concerning AI:Icons for the Seven requirements for trustworthy AI

  • Human agency and oversight
  • Technical robustness and safety,
  • Privacy and data governance,
  • Transparency,
  • Diversity, non-discrimination and fairness,
  • Societal and environmental wellbeing, and
  • Accountability

While non-binding, these requirements will influence the ongoing discussion on the potential regulation in this area. Proposal for a Regulation laying down harmonised rules on artificial intelligence.

When it comes to the regulatory framework, the EC’s White Paper outlines potential harms the AI may bring. “This harm might be both material (safety and health of individuals, including loss of life, damage to property) and immaterial (loss of privacy, limitations to the right of freedom of expression, human dignity, discrimination for instance in access to employment), and can relate to a wide variety of risks. A regulatory framework should concentrate on how to minimise the various risks of potential harm, in particular the most significant ones.”

Having in mind the speed with which the AI is being developed and its potential implications, it will be necessary to integrate flexibility into the regulatory framework to ensure its future-proofing. While the Proposal for a Regulation laying down harmonised rules on artificial intelligence must be clear enough to be applicable in real life, it must also satisfy the need for adaptability to future solutions.

Addressing Artificial Intelligence and Ethics issues from an ethics perspective

The EU policies and priorities are being translated into Calls for proposals for what later become EU-funded projects. The EC’s approach to artificial intelligence and ethics incorporates elements aiming to:

In this context, targeting AI in its research framework programmes serves the purpose of coordinating investments and maximising research outputs of programmes such as Digital Europe and Horizon Europe. This, however, includes the necessity of ensuring ethics compliance concerning the use of AI in research projects.

To provide guidance on the Artificial Intelligence and Ethics in EU projects the EC published “Ethics guidelines for trustworthy AI”. The document is now almost systematically being referenced during the ethics evaluations and is almost always being mentioned as a recommendation for the applicants/consortia. Since the AI can be used, in breach of EU privacy and data protection rules to, for example, de-anonymise data about individuals or to raise potential risks of mass surveillance by analysing vast quantities of personal data and identifying links among them, it is relevant to mention here the EC’s Guidance Note on “Ethics and Data Protection”.

Finally, for the AI context, in rare cases, the ethics evaluators and consortia or applicants fulfilling ethics requirements must also consider the AI from the military/civil application viewpoint. Two main documents are of interest in this case: Guidance note “Research with an exclusive focus on civil applications” and Guidance note “Research involving dual-use items”.

MARVEL: addressing Artificial Intelligence biases

MARVEL delivers a disruptive Edge-to-Fog-to-Cloud ubiquitous computing framework that enables multi-modal perception and intelligence for audio-visual scene recognition, event detection in a smart city environment. The project had to address the issue of Artificial Intelligence and Ethics in a very interesting context. In particular, under the expert guidance of the Project Coordinator, the whole project team worked together to demonstrate the elimination or mitigation of potential algorithmic biases perceived as a threat to the project by the ethics reviewers.

AI (or algorithmic) bias describes systematic and repeatable errors in a computer system that create unfair outcomes, such as favoring one arbitrary group of users over others. AI bias is found across platforms, including but not limited to search engine results and social media platforms, and can have impacts ranging from inadvertent privacy violations to reinforcing social biases of race, gender, sexuality, and ethnicity.

Building on top of the high-quality feedback we received from the project coordinator, technical manager and all project partners, Privanova analysed relevant applicable framework and implemented it fulfilling the ethics requirements. As a result, MARVEL achieved overall better ethics compliance including safeguards for diversity, non-discrimination and ensuring fairness across all project outcomes. By following EU guidance, the project successfully implemented measures preserving the principle of transparency and effectively safeguarding its results from emerging AI biases.

Have you heard of the initiatives taken by the EU before? What is your view on this sensitive subject? Please reach out using our contact form. You can also find us on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Signed by: the Privanova team. You may find the complete text with references to more EU funded projects here.

Key Facts

  • Project Coordinator: Dr. Sotiris Ioannidis
  • Institution: Foundation for Research and Technology Hellas (FORTH)
  • E-mail: 
  • Start: 01.01.2021
  • Duration: 36 months
  • Participating Organisations: 17
  • Number of countries: 12

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This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation program under grant agreement No 957337. The website reflects only the view of the author(s) and the Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.