The potential of AI and the position of the EU in the AI global race

Nowadays, thanks to the increasing research in the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI), different smart technologies, such as computer vision, natural language understanding, decision support systems, machine learning and robotics, are reaching levels of maturity that can be applied in different sectors (such as manufacturing, healthcare, finance, etc.) and business contexts, with numerous advantages and benefits that affect society as a whole.

The benefits of AI for our society

For example, for citizens, AI could mean better healthcare, safer cars and other transport systems, and also tailor-made, cheaper and longer-lasting products and services. Furthermore, AI used in public services can reduce costs and offer new possibilities in public transport, education, energy and waste management, and could also improve the sustainability of products, thus, contributing to the achievement of the European Green Deal goals and UN Sustainable Development Goals.

As well, during the current pandemic, AI and machine learning have played a key role in every aspect of the COVID-19 crisis response, from prediction and tracking of the spread of the virus to diagnosis and development of therapies and vaccines and the improvement of healthcare systems. In general, AI systems have the great potential to accelerate the lead times for the development of vaccines and drugs. For example, many life science companies resort to artificial intelligence for drug discovery.

The growth of the AI global market

The interest of companies in these new technologies is also confirmed by the exponential growth registered by the AI market in recent years. According to the latest release of IDC (International Data Corporation), worldwide revenues for the AI market, including software, hardware and services, is estimated to grow 15.2% year over year in 2021 to $341.8 billion. The market is forecasted to accelerate further in 2022 with an 18.8% growth, and remain on track to break the $500 billion mark by 2024. These are numbers that testify to how companies are increasingly using AI as a new industrial growth factor and as a lever for competitiveness and to achieve benefits in terms of greater reliability, quality and safety, lower operating costs and gaining higher revenues  and profits.

The EU in the AI global race

Therefore, many big corporations worldwide are now increasingly investing in AI, especially US companies. In fact, according to Stanford University estimates, in 2020, the US continued to hold a dominant position in private AI investment with US companies investing $23.6 billion in AI, compared to China’s $9.9 billion. It is important to note, however, that China has strong public investments in AI. In fact, both the Chinese central and local governments are spending heavily on AI R&D. The level of European private investments, on the other hand, is much lower and amounts to only $2 billion.

Moreover, the EU disadvantage seems to emerge also in terms of AI publications and patents. Almost 60% of all AI patenting firms are from China, versus 14% from the US and only 7% from the EU. Also in AI journal publications, China has held the largest share globally since 2017, with 18.0% in 2020, followed by the US (12.3%) and the EU (8.6%).

Finally, in addition to the traditional avenues for publishing academic papers, AI researchers have embraced the practice of publishing their work (often pre–peer review) on arXiv, an online repository of electronic preprints. In 2020, the US led in (32.5%) AI-related publications on arXiv, followed by the EU (18.7%) and China (15.7%). However, China is catching up with the US, with its share of AI-related publications on arXiv increasing year on year. Instead, EU publications have remained largely unchanged.

Therefore, the European Union needs to catch up and reduce the gap with the United States and China, strengthening public and private investments in AI and enhancing research and innovation in these new technologies.


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