Scientists call for establishment of European AI lab

Companies doing top research in AI are controlled from the US or China, and European scientists want to catch up
24 April 2018

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Affluent Europe has no shortage of research funding for Artificial Intelligence, but it does face challenges in attracting outstanding researchers.

That is why a group of scientists has written an open letter to their governments proposing a European Lab for Learning and Intelligent Systems (Ellis).

The letter signed by 20 scientists, including those from the University of Tübinge and Cambridge University, among others, said Europe is now at a “crossroads” on the AI field.

“Machine learning is at the heart of a technological and societal artificial intelligence revolution involving multiple sister disciplines, with large implications for the future competitiveness of Europe,” the scientists said.

“Europe is not keeping up: most of the top labs, as well as the top places to do a PhD, are located in North America; moreover, AI investments in China and North America are significantly larger than in Europe.”

The scientists said the distinction between academic research and industrial labs is vanishing, with a significant part of the basic research now being done in industry.

They noted substantial research freedom, higher salaries, rapid commercialization of results, and academic institutions worldwide struggling to retain their best scientists. These carry negative implications, not only for research but also for the education of future talent.

“This further weakens Europe since all of the companies doing top research in this field are controlled from the US (or China) – many European companies whose future business crucially depends on AI are not perceived as competitive,” the group said.

“There are still a few machine learning & perception research hotspots in Europe that play in the international top league. Virtually all of the top people in those places are continuously being pursued for recruitment by US companies.”

Fostering economic development

The scientists said Ellis will perform fundamental research in modern AI, attract top international industry research labs, and spawn startups that will become major players in the future.

“It will thus drive excellence in Europe’s research and use of machine intelligence to foster economic development and improve the lives of people.”

The group added Ellis will be a top employer in machine intelligence research, on par with Berkeley, Stanford, and MIT.

“Taken together, this means that Europe will be able to play a major role in the scientific and societal revolution that is underway. The first and second industrial
revolution not only transformed technology but also led to fundamental societal changes,” they said.

“These changes were managed by European democracies and values. The current revolution may be equally significant. Europe should benefit from it and European values should help shape its impact.”