European artificial intelligence: a special AI office in action

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The AI Office is going to enable and activate the future AI development and use in a way that fosters societal and economic benefits and innovation, while mitigating risks. The Office will play a key role in the AI Act’s implementation, specifically in the general-purpose AI models. The office will coordinate the development the “codes of practice”, conduct testing and evaluation of existing and perspective AI models. It will also work to foster research and innovation in trustworthy AI and position the EU as a leader on the global scene.   

The Commission’s White Paper on AI, published in 2020, set out an initial vision for AI in Europe as a “system of excellence and trust”. Then, in April 2021, the Commission proposed the EU AI Act and a new Coordinated Plan with the EU member states, to guarantee the safety and fundamental rights of people and businesses, while strengthening investment and innovation in the EU-27. It aimed to address risks of specific uses of AI, categorizing them into 4 different levels: unacceptable risk, high risk, limited risk and minimal risk.
The EU AI Act – as the world’s first comprehensive law on artificial intelligence issues – has been already agreed by co-legislators in December 2023; the act should enter into force at the end of July 2024.
In January 2024 the Commission launched a package of measures to support European startups and SMEs in the development of trustworthy AI; as part of these measures, the Commission decided to establish the AI Office.
The AI Office will be led by its head and will work under the guidance of: a) Lead Scientific Adviser to ensure scientific excellence in evaluation of models and innovative approaches, and b) an Adviser for international affairs to follow up on the EU’s commitment to work closely with international partners on trustworthy AI.
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The Commission is also establishing two European Digital Infrastructure Consortia, EDICs:
a) The Alliance for Language Technologies, ALT-EDIC to develop a common European infrastructure in language technologies to address the shortage of European languages data for the training of AI solutions, as well as to uphold Europe’s linguistic diversity and cultural richness. This will support the development of European large language models.
b) The CitiVERSE-EDIC to apply state-of-the-art AI-tools to develop and enhance Local Digital Twins for Smart Communities, helping cities simulate and optimize processes, from traffic management to waste management.

Regulating AI in Europe
The AI Act ensures that Europeans can trust what AI has to offer. While most AI systems pose limited to no risk and can contribute to solving many societal challenges, certain AI systems create risks that we must address to avoid undesirable outcomes. For example, it is often not possible to find out why an AI system has made a decision or prediction and taken a particular action. So, it may become difficult to assess whether someone has been unfairly disadvantaged, such as in a hiring decision or in an application for a public benefit scheme. Although existing legislation provides some protection, it is insufficient to address the specific challenges AI systems may bring.
Recent advancements in AI gave rise to ever more powerful Generative AI. So-called “general-purpose AI models” that are being integrated in numerous AI systems are becoming too important for the economy and society not to be regulated. In light of potential systemic risks, the EU puts in place effective rules and oversight.
Thus, the AI Act is aimed at: – addressing risks specifically created by AI applications; – prohibiting AI practices that pose unacceptable risks; – determining a list of high-risk applications; – setting clear requirements for AI systems for high-risk applications; – defining specific obligations for delayers and providers of high-risk AI applications; – requiring a conformity assessment before a given AI system is put into service or placed on the market; – safeguarding certain enforcement after a given AI system is placed into the market; and – establishing a governance structure at European and national level.
Some provisions of the AI Act will apply after the regulation enters into force; however, some requirements on the high-risk AI systems and other provisions will only be applicable at the end of a transitional period (i.e., the time between entry into force and date of applicability). In this context, the Commission is promoting the AI Pact, seeking the industry’s voluntary commitment to anticipate the AI Act and to start implementing its requirements ahead of the legal deadline. To gather participants, the first call for interest was launched in November 2023, obtaining responses from over 550 organisations of various sizes, sectors, and countries. The AI Office has since initiated the development of the AI Pact, which is structured around two pillars:
= Pillar I acts as a gateway to engage the AI Pact network (those organisations that have expressed an interest in the Pact), encourages the exchange of best practices, and provides with practical information on the AI Act implementation process; and
= Pillar II encourages AI system providers and deployers to prepare early and take actions towards compliance with requirements and obligations set out in the legislation.
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The AI office’s composition
There are the following five preliminary established unions in the Office:
= Regulation and Compliance Unit that will coordinate the regulatory approach to facilitate the uniform application and enforcement of the AI Act in the member states; the unit will contribute to investigations and possible infringements, administering sanctions;
= Unit on AI safety to focus on the identification of systemic risks of very capable general-purpose models, an possible mitigation measures as well as evaluation and testing approaches;
= Excellence in AI and Robotics Unit that will support and funds research and development to foster the AI’s “system of excellence”; it will coordinate all the GenAI4EU initiatives, as well as stimulating the development of models and their integration into innovative applications. The ‘GenAI4EU’ initiative is aimed at supporting the development of novel use cases and emerging applications in Europe’s 14 industrial systems, as well as the public sector: application areas include robotics, health, biotech, manufacturing, mobility, climate and virtual worlds.
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= AI for Societal Good Unit, which will design and implement the international engagement of the office in the “AI for good” directions, such as weather modeling, cancer diagnoses and digital twins for reconstruction, etc.;
= AI Innovation and Policy Coordination Unit, which will oversee the execution of the EU-wide AI strategy, monitor possible trends and investment, as well as stimulating the uptake of AI through a network of European Digital Innovation Hubs and the establishment of AI Factories. Besides, this unit will foster all sorts of AI’s innovations by supporting regulatory sandboxes and real-world testing.

AI Office setup and tasks
The AI Office will employ more than 140 staff to carry out its tasks; the staff will include technology specialists, administrative assistants, lawyers, policy specialists, and economists.
The office will ensure the coherent implementation of the AI Act; this will be done by supporting the governance bodies in EU states. The AI Office will also directly enforce the rules for general-purpose AI models. In cooperation with AI developers, the scientific community and other stakeholders, the office will coordinate the drawing up of state-of-the-art codes of practice, conduct testing and evaluation of general-purpose AI models, request information as well as apply sanctions, when necessary.
To ensure well-informed decision-making, the office will collaborate with the member states and the wider expert community through dedicated cooperation means and expert groups. At EU-level the AI office will work closely with the European Artificial Intelligence Board composed of the member states’ representatives.
The Scientific Panel of independent experts will ensure a strong link with the scientific community; further expertise will be gathered in Advisory Forums, representing a balanced selection of stakeholders, including industry, startups and SMEs, academia, think tanks and civil society.
The office will promote an innovative and trustworthy AI in Europe. This direction will be oriented towards providing advice on best practices and enabling access to AI sandboxes, real-world testing and other European support structures for AI uptake, such as the Testing and Experimentation Facilities in AI, the European Digital Innovation Hubs, and the AI Factories.
The direction’s activity will support research and innovation activities in the field of AI and robotics, as well as implement initiatives, such as GenAI4EU, to ensure that AI general-purpose models made in Europe and trained through EU supercomputers are fine-tuned and integrated into novel applications across the economy by stimulating investment.
Finally, the office will ensure a strategic, coherent and effective European approach on AI at the international level, becoming a global reference point.
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   The AI Act and the Coordinated Plan on AI are part of the EU-wide efforts to be a global leader in the promotion of trustworthy AI at international level. AI has become an area of strategic importance at the crossroads of geopolitics, commercial stakes and security concerns. Countries around the world are choosing to use AI as a way to signal their desires for technical advancement due to its utility and potential.
AI regulations are in the emerging process around the world and the EU is taking actions to foster the setting of global AI standards in close collaboration with international partners, following the rules-based multilateral system and the values it upholds.
The EU intends to deepen partnerships, coalitions and alliances with numerous European partners, e.g. Japan, the US, India, Canada, South Korea, Singapore, or the Latin American and Caribbean region, as well as multilateral (e.g. OECD, G7 and G20) and regional organisations (e.g. Council of Europe).

Commission’s opinion
= “The AI-office will help to ensure a coherent implementation of the AI Act. Together with developers and a scientific community, the office will evaluate and test general purpose AI to ensure that AI serves us as humans and uphold our European values.”
Vestager M., Executive Vice-President for European digitalisation
= “With the new AI Office and its 140 talented persons, the Commission will have the necessary expertise to drive the implementation of the AI Act and to reinforce Europe’s role as a global standard-setter in AI. The Office will foster a European AI ecosystem that is innovative, competitive and respectful of EU rules and values.”
Breton Th., Commissioner for Internal Market

  More information in the following Commission’s web-sites: – AI Office; – A European Approach to Artificial Intelligence; – AI Act; – AI Innovation Package, – AI Pact.
Independent, evidence-based research produced by the Joint Research Centre (JRC) has been fundamental in shaping the EU’s AI policies and ensuring their effective implementation. Through rigorous research and analysis, the European Joint Resear4ch Center, JRC has supported the development of the AI Act, “informing” AI terminology and risk classification, technical requirements and contributing to the ongoing development of harmonised standards.
See additionally: – Coordinated Plan on Artificial Intelligence; – Regulation on Machinery Products; – Liability Rules for Artificial Intelligence; and – European Centre for Algorithmic Transparency, Joint Research Centre.
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