Artificial Intelligence: economic and strategic benefits
The COVID-19 crisis has shown us that artificial intelligence and digital technologies were largely able to mitigate the socio-economic impact of the pandemic. And especially artificial intelligence is one of the key emerging technologies which can determine the future position of the European Union in the world economy. Flourishing artificial Intelligence (AI) ecosystem and Artificial Intelligence Act belong to the top of Czech Presidency´s priorities. The word “Robots” which celebrated 101st anniversary this year comes from the Czech Republic, firstly used in the sci-fi dark play R.U.R. written by the Czech writer, Karel Čapek whose brother a well-known painter Josef Čapek invented it. It was already more than just mechanical machinery at the time – it was a completely new sort of technology with a great potential which currently plays an important role in the twenty-first century.
The Czech Republic as a middle-sized export-oriented country has a long historical tradition in industry, defence, and security sectors for which the applications of artificial intelligence are crucial. The Czech Republic is home to numerous innovative start-ups, companies, and scientific centres in this field and supports innovation that will improve companies’ competitiveness on international markets.
The Czech Republic believes that the EU should focus on startups and small innovative companies with global potential to keep our countries technologically leaders in the world digital race. To be competitive in today’s world, the Czech Republic is of the opinion that it is our task to make legislative framework business and innovation friendly, becoming future proof regulatory framework in the digital. At the same time for the Czech Republic is crucial to refrain from overregulation that exposes the openness and innovativeness of European businesses to an unnecessary risk. These main goals were supported in the Position Paper „Innovative and Trustworthy AI: Two sides of the same coin” endorsed by Denmark, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Finland, France, Estonia, Ireland, Latvia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden in 2020.
Cooperation in Artificial Intelligence at the international scene
However, it is also essential that solutions based on artificial intelligence also respect human rights, fundamental freedoms, and democratic values. The Czech Republic adopted National Strategy on Artificial Intelligence (NAIS) in 2019 which among other goals supports research and development of responsible and trusted AI along with the principles and values of the European Union and one of its objectives are to engage in international cooperation, initiatives, and organizations to support the AI development while mitigating potential challenges, as well as to share experiences among democratic and liberal nations.
Czechia is in line with the 2021 review of the Coordinated Plan of Artificial Intelligence objectives so that the EU will become a global leader in this area. The Czech Republic supports close cooperation in AI to set and foster common standards and stresses the responsible development and use of AI at the different international organisation’s fora such as the EU, OECD, the UN, the Council of Europe, GPAI etc. Parallelly, the Czech Republic seeks to promote open strategic autonomy and cooperation with foreign countries to maintain fair competition, resilience, and innovation in the European economy. Moreover, it is essential to enable research and innovation cooperation with developed and like-minded countries, such as Israel, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, South Korea, and the United States of America.
The Czech Republic welcomes the launch of structured discussion with the United States on artificial intelligence under the Trade and Technology Council and we are looking forward to ambitious results of this cooperation. We believe that the European Union and the United States of America could build a valuable strategic partnership that would support the scaling of AI capabilities and strengthen the liberal democratic rules.
The European Union Debate
Since 2017, the Czech Republic has taken a few steps to address legal aspects of AI at both the national and the international level e. g. at the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL). That is why it will be an honour for the Czech Republic to chair negotiations on the Commission proposal for a Regulation on laying down harmonised rules on Artificial Intelligence (Artificial Intelligence Act) so called Artificial Intelligence Act at the Council of the European Union which was published on the 21st of April 2021. In the Council, the proposal has been discussed at the Working Party on Telecommunications and Information Society. The analysis of the AI Act was started during the Portuguese Presidency, was continued under the Slovenian Presidency and currently the French Presidency has followed with the negotiation. Home Affairs ministers also discussed the AI Act from the perspective of law enforcement In the European Parliament, the proposal was finally assigned to two Parliament´s committees on civil liberties (LIBE) and consumer protection (IMCO). Many stakeholders expressed their position on the AI Act from business associations, NGOs, human rights organisation, consumer protection association, small and medium enterprises (SMEs), startups, academic sphere, and others. It is evident that the palette of opinions on the AI Act is diverse and colourful.
Impact on innovation and SMEs
The Czech Republic is glad to play the role of the honest broker during its EU Council presidency in the second half of 2022 and is determined to find a well-balanced compromise. Czechia generally supports main objectives and principles of AI Act such as human centric approach and ensuring protection of fundamental rights, health, and safety. The Czech Republic supports the AI Act ban on certain practices in the field of AI, in particular the ban on the creation of so-called social score systems and systems that may unknowingly influence human behaviour and emotions.
The Czech Republic is very sensitive to striking the right balance between innovation and regulation. Thus, regarding AI Act it is necessary to support innovation, particularly for SMEs and start-ups to be competitive in developing artificial intelligence solutions in the EU. It is essential to have a predictable, transparent, and fair legislative framework. Regarding innovative environment, the Czech Republic supports the use of regulatory sandboxes, which will enable testing of AI systems and targeted and safe development of innovative AI systems. Standardized best-practice procedures, sufficient information and necessary qualifications of relevant national competent authorities need to be ensured. It is necessary to take SMEs size well into account when setting up the administrative requirements since it is incomparably more difficult for them to comply than for larger companies.
Competitive AI ecosystem
Innovation is a combination of talent, funding and a market. We must work on these three pillars to develop a competitive digital ecosystem in the EU. The European Commission launched the Digital Europe Programme which aims to support the Digital projects in five key fields: supercomputing, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, advanced digital skills, and ensuring a wide use of digital technologies. The Czech Republic concentrates on the initiatives launched under the Digital Europe programme such as establishment of a European network of centers for digital innovation (EDIH) which foster the digital transformation (AI, High Performance Computing (HPC), CyberSec) in the EU and creating Testing and Experimental Facilities for the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI TEF). Targeted investments and functioning network of innovation hubs, research centres and testing facilities is a must for innovative digital ecosystem.
The Czech Republic also understands the ambition of the European Commission AI Act proposal to possess the extraterritorial reach as it affects providers of AI systems in the EU, irrespective of where the provider is located, as well as the users of AI systems located within the EU, and providers and users located outside the EU. That is why it is of the utmost importance to maintain cooperation with our international like-minded partners. I believe that maintaining strategic partnerships and creating new forms of cooperation between the private and public sectors are crucial elements for accelerating innovative digital solutions.
Outlook for AI Act
Careful reviewing of the AI Act and discussing the impact of the AI Act on start-ups and SMEs are key tasks for the Council. The European Parliament declared that it wanted sufficient time to discuss it. Our aim is to reach more compatibility between emerging initiatives in the EU as the AI regulation will have to work with various other EU regulation, from data protection, cyber security to product safety via law enforcement and as well as ensure that the digital policies at the EU level strengthen the growth of innovation and the use of new technologies. The Czech Republic as a part of the TRIO is determined to contribute (together with our EU partners) to find the right balance between managing risks and supporting technological innovation at the EU level and we should always have in mind; it would be to nobody’s benefit if bureaucracy weights down European research, development, innovation deployment and AI talents leave our region to look for better opportunities elsewhere.
 National Artificial Intelligency of the Czech Republic from May 2019, source https://www.mpo.cz/assets/en/guidepost/for-the-media/press-releases/2019/5/NAIS_eng_web.pdf
 From January 2022 the Czech Republic became the member of multi-stakeholder´s initiative Global Partnership for Artificial Intelligence (GPAI).
 Digital Europe Programme – https://digital-strategy.ec.europa.eu/en/activities/digital-programme