For her first 100 days in office, Ursula von der Leyen, the next European Commission President, has prioritized a coordinated European approach to the human and ethical implications of artificial intelligence. The digital department of the European Commission has explicitly recommended a regulatory framework for AI that would set official transparency obligations for automated decision-making and require that AI systems be assessed to ensure that they do not discriminate or violate fundamental rights, such as privacy. This voices the view of French President Macron, who stated last year that “Europe is a place where we are able to assert collective preferences and articulate them with universal values”.
The race to establish a “sensor-based economy”, and thus to develop and create artificial intelligence, 5G mobile network technology, quantum computing, and blockchain technology, seems to be a race between the United States and China. However, there is a strategic space that Europe can occupy. Based on its traditions of socio-democratic capitalism (i.e. the Rhine model of capitalism), which has a “stakeholder approach”, and focuses on long-term success and public consensus, the European consensus-based model should focus on setting the ethical standards for the implementation and social adoption of these exponential technologies. Examples are the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), European regulation for an open internet, or the European strategy to create “trustworthy artificial intelligence”. This contrasts with the market-led model, in which companies focus on their private interests (shareholder value) – which is dominant in the U.S. – and with the Chinese state-led model, in which the state is directly involved in developing new technologies to strengthen its power and authority.
The European consensus-based model occupies the middle ground between these two models, enabling Europe to positionitself as a regulatory and normative tech superpower. Europe could become the testbed and home ground of new technological principles that go against the digital libertarian capitalism of Silicon Valley and techno-authoritarianism in China: open-source innovation, decentralized and democratic governance, private data ownership, open data exchanges, a tokenized P2P economy. If Europe can provide a profitable investment climate and incubate new business models for these principles, it stands to gain from the Second Deep Transition.