How is Europe tracking with AI? A look at 3 leaders

The US-China race might make headlines, but Europe is plowing ahead.
13 February 2020 | 5 Shares

While China and US are enegged in a fierce competition, Europe is rising in momentum. Source: Shutterstock

Overhyped or not, AI (artificial intelligence) poses some serious cross-industry potential. Elements of it are already in use in our daily lives, from voice-powered personal assistants, suggestive searches and, soon at least, autonomous vehicle technology — although, much of what generally put under the AI umbrella is, in fact, machine learning.

The technology’s power is in its ability to paw through the massive and increasing volumes of data in our grips, inferring past patterns and outcomes, and ultimately learning and improving from past ‘experiences’ without being programmed. It has vast potential to enhance products, services, and operations, from recommending a show that you’ll like on Netflix to facial recognition systems.

The race is on to reap those advantages, not just between competing organizations, but between countries as well that are aware of just how these advances will boost their overall economic productivity in the years to come. When we think about international rivals in AI, we typically discuss the competition between China and the US, but recognizing the invaluable contribution artificial intelligence (AI) has towards society and the economy, governments worldwide are taking a more proactive role in fostering its rise and implementation.

Below, we look at the hum of AI activity in Europe, with particular attention to leaders UK, France and Germany.

United Kingdom

The UK is at the forefront of the AI revolution as it consistently pours in capital to accelerate its tech industry. In 2017, the UK government pledged close to US$77 million for research in AI and robotics plus research hubs. The fund grew to US$120 million last year to increase momentum in research and development of robotics and next-gen technologies

What sets UK apart as a leader in AI is its direct address to a global tech talent shortage; the government announced US$24 million to fund AI and data science conversion degrees and scholarships for students from underrepresented groups. The fund aims to spur diversity in the tech sector and harness new technologies to upskill the current workforce. 

“The UK has a long-standing reputation for innovation, world-leading academic institutions, and a business-friendly environment and everyone, regardless of their background, should have the opportunity to build a successful career in our world-leading tech sector,” said Digital Secretary Jeremy Wright.

“Through these new AI and Data Conversion courses and our modern Industrial Strategy, we are committed to working with the tech sector and academia to develop and maintain the best AI workforce in the world.” 

Besides that, a unique collaboration between academic institutions and corporations is helping to carve the UK out as a dynamic tech-savvy nation. The University of Cambridge is giving UK businesses access to new supercomputers (worth US$13 million) to assist with AI projects. 

About an hour away from Cambridge’s rival university city — Oxford, where a UK spin-off of Silicon Valley is being developed. Milton Park 2040 is a 20-year plan aiming to model after a future tech town that will upscale the nation’s innovation drive, starting with the participation of startups from a neighboring university — Oxford. 

France

In France, Emmanuel Macron released a national strategy to accelerate the tech industry in early 2018. For the next five years, the country will invest more than US$1.6 billion for research in AI and support emerging startups to compete against other global powers (US and China). 

“We need to create our champions,” Macron said. The president envisions up to 25 French tech unicorns by 2025, referring to companies with valuations more than US$1 billion. To realize this goal, Macron has earmarked US$5.4 billion to grow more local billion-euro startups. 

Meanwhile, France is also trying to attract foreign tech investors to supercharge the City of Light as a competitive tech hub rivaling London. With tech giants such as Samsung, IBM, DeepMind, and Microsoft announcing plans to set up AI research centers in France, the nation is on a sprint to compete with other leading tech nations. 

Germany

Germany has had an early start in technological development, especially in automobile and engineering. The country had begun autonomous vehicle research and projects as early as the 1980s, almost half of the world’s patents on autonomous driving originated from Germany.

Cyber Valley in Southern Germany is the nation’s very own hot spot for research in AI. The tech hub aims to be a collaborative space for academics and enterprises to work hand in hand in AI development. The new hub also promotes new talent to flourish in the AI sector and encourages collaborative work with local brands like Porsche, Daimler, and Bosch. 

Despite a promising start in autonomous vehicles and robotics, the same level of investment and initiatives is not transmitted across other forms of AI. Unlike other nations, there is a clear disparity between the highly-focused research areas (automotive, manufacturing) and other untapped territories such as big data, blockchain, and machine learning.

Even so, Germany is keeping up with current trends and recently secured a US$491 million loan to kickstart the rollout of 5G and finance the infrastructure needed.