Perhaps other people heard something different whilst listening to Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for the Digital Economy and Society, giving her speech at Mobile World Congress yesterday (pictured). They may have heard a serious leader talk about important topics like 5G security and artificial intelligence. However, this is the summary of what I heard: ‘we want more of the things we like and none of the things we do not like, and it is very important that we act urgently but without rushing’.
Here are the key takeaways from Gabriel’s speech.
5G Security Is a Priority; The EU Will Act Decisively before Too Long
I’m well aware of the unrest among all of you key actors in the telecoms sectors caused by the ongoing discussions around the cybersecurity of 5G. Let me reassure you that the Commission takes your views very seriously because you need to run these systems everyday. Nobody is helped by premature decisions based on partial analysis of the facts.
However, it is also clear that Europe has to have a common approach to this challenge. And we need to bring it on the table soon. Otherwise there is a risk that fragmentation rises because of diverging decisions taken by member states trying to protect themselves.
Whilst we can all agree that premature decisions are bad, the EU is guilty of stalling for time. Huawei’s rise has not been sudden and the Chinese have long been jockeying to be global leaders of 5G. The UK has years of experience of examining Huawei’s equipment and code before it is installed, an option that only seems to have occurred to other European countries in the last few weeks. Given China’s known investment in cyberwarfare the current security risks were as predictable as forecasting that 5G would be the successor to 4G. Whilst the EU offers empty words there are governments around the world that have made decisions that are designed to protect their citizens. The EU cannot simply fudge their way out of the tensions created by telcos who want to install the cheapest and best networks available, but do not want to be liable for national security.
Europe Will Take a Balanced Approach to Not Being the Slowest of Tech Leaders
Europe has to keep pace with other regions and early movers while making sure that its citizens and businesses benefit swiftly from the new infrastructures and the many applications that will be built on top of them.
Digital is helping us and we need to reap its opportunities, mitigate its risks and make sure it is respectful of our values as much as driven by innovation. Innovation and values. Two key words. That is the vision we have delivered in terms of the defense for our citizens in Europe. Together we have decided to construct a Digital Single Market that reflects the values and principles upon which the European Union has been built.
The EU has shown its commitment to defending its values, especially when this involves fining the big US tech giants or constraining access to the internet. There is less evidence of its alleged support for innovation. The Digital Single Market does allow businesses to provide services to 500mn Europeans, but the sheer number of American innovators appearing on the agenda at Barcelona shows that developing an attractive product or service requires a lot more than politicians writing good consumer protection rules.
Europe Chooses to Only Have Good AI and Rejects All the Bad AI
Trust is the key word. There is no other way. It is only by ensuring trustworthiness that Europe will position itself as a leader in cutting edge, secure and ethical AI. And that European citizens will enjoy AI’s benefits.
Apparently trust is key to being a leader, even as we wait to discover the EU’s ‘priority’ decision on whether Chinese network technology can be trusted. It hardly matters that the EU has the power to regulate every industry to death because enterprises and consumers will buy innovative technology from those firms that can actually supply it, irrespective of whether they are Chinese or American. Nothing in Gabriel’s speech suggested the EU has any proposals that will help European businesses to gain a significant share of the AI market. A decade of European dithering threw away a significant lead in the field of mobile telephony but there is no evidence of any lessons having been learned.
Gabriel’s speech, which was ostensibly about AI, was often so bland that it could have been written by an artificially intelligent program with no knowledge of current affairs. It reminded me of the DJ-3000 radio robot from The Simpsons, and its typically pertinent criticism of politicians: