Czechia wants to be AI leader and rejects regulation, but companies lacks state support

2020-11-02

In the Czech Republic, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been quite a discussed topic recently. Experts, politicians, and other stakeholders realise that research, development and use of this technology will be crucial in near future.

By Lukáš Hendrych (EURACTIV.cz)

 

This is the reason why Czechia rejects strict regulations on the European level. According to Czech stakeholders in the field of AI, too much EU regulation could irreparably slow down the AI´s research a development.

An example of such stance is Czech AI scientist Tomáš Mikolov who has experience working in Google, Microsoft, or Facebook. He decided to move back to Czechia some time ago and he is currently working at Czech technical university in Prague.

“AI technology is group of computer algorithms that solve complex tasks such as machine translation, image and speech recognition etc. In essence, these are mostly statistical approaches applied to large datasets,” he clarified.

“The question is whether it makes any sense to try to regulate at European level use of statistics in computer programs. An Effort to regulate AI is often based on fantasy visions that have nothing to do with current state of the AI technology,” he believes.

“In my view, instead of discussion about regulation, slowing down or limit research and development of modern technologies, I would rather see discussion about support of such research and use of AI, so that we do not miss the train compared to the USA, but also China,” he added.

The less regulation the better

The Confederation of Industry of the Czech Republic shares this view. According to the director of digital economy and technology department Ondřej Ferdus, setting up rules is important thing. On the other hand, reckless regulation can have unfortunate consequences, he warned.

“Europa is in a very good position to be leader in the field of AI. However, overregulation could thwart this potential. This is why we agree with the approach of the Czech Republic,” he told EURACTIV.cz.

And what is the Czech approach? Emphasis should be placed primarily on self-regulation and a voluntary approach, as the Czech Republic emphasized in a non-paper published last autumn.

“In the field of AI we primarily support the topic of secure society. In this document, we also state that it is necessary to determine “red lines” in the case of risky applications such as facial recognition, social scoring applications or applications that will be able to recognize the emotions of users,” Jan Míča, the Head of European Digital Agenda Unit at the Office of the Government of the Czech Republic, said the EURACTIV.cz.

“As far as coming regulation is concerned, we support an approach based on a thorough risk assessment and regulation only when necessary so that we do not create unnecessary obstacles for developers and business,” he added.

The Czech Republic is also one of the 14 countries that called the Commission in yearly October to push for as little regulation as possible in the AI field.

Finding balance between setting up rules and fast AI development is crucial also for The Confederation of Industry. Early this year, it established informal group of organizations from the Middle and East Europe called AI Challengers. One of its output is also a common position on the White Paper on AI that was published by Commission in February this year.

AI is all around us

Like Tomáš Mikolov, quoted at the beginning, other people “from practise” also draw attention to the unrealistic ideas of the public about AI.

An example is the co-founder of the prg.ai project Pavel Juruš.

“I still listen the sci-fi narrative that AI could destroy us one day. However, AI has been influencing us for a long time already, e.g. through electronic media like social media or recommendation systems. At the same time, the debate in what interest such applications of AI should be is rather marginal,” he emphasized.

Prg.ai is a platform for the development of science, education, and commerce in the field of AI that seeks to connect communities of students, teachers, scientists, lawyers, or philosophers and develop discussion about AI in society. For this reason, Pavel Juruš is not a staunch opponent of regulation.

“In general, I am a proponent of caution, because AI carries a number of risks. The idea of some stakeholders that regulation is the same as imposing obstacles and hampering business is, in my view, erroneous and concise,” he pointed out.

In his opinion, in fact, well-established regulatory framework could support the development of AI and commercial applications.

He also points out that there are top teams and workplaces in the Czech Republic, but that there is a lack of sufficient support and investment from the government.

“Research institutes can do top research. What is missing is a strategic approach to the development of research and management of science. Unfortunately, this is a problem of the overall underfunding of science in the Czech Republic,” he explained.

According to him, in the global competition, the Czech Republic is not able to offer interesting conditions for foreign scientists and capital.

“Talented people going abroad, because of better terms,” he said adding that current approach of the Czech government  to AI research and development is far from sufficient to fulfill the idea that the Czech Republic will become a European leader in the AI field in the future.

Ondřej Ferdus from the Confederation of Industry also emphasizes the need of bigger government´s support. In his view, ongoing pandemic has been showing us how important digitalization and use of AI are.

On the other hand, he also points out the power of private sector or Czech universities.

“In the Czech Republic, we have hundreds of subjects that carry out applied research in the field of AI. Czechia also have quite strong academic background when it comes to AI development,” he stressed adding that according to their survey, 88 % of companies pay for these activities themselves.

“It is obvious that companies realize the importance of AI so they invest their own resources,” he said.

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