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Czech perspective on Artificial Intelligence and its role in modern society

Mr Ivan Bartoš, Deputy Prime Minister for Digitalization and Minister of Regional Development of the Czech Republic

Mr Ivan Bartoš, Deputy Prime Minister for Digitalization and Minister of Regional Development of the Czech Republic
Mr Ivan Bartoš, Deputy Prime Minister for Digitalization and Minister of Regional Development of the Czech Republic

Artificial intelligence in our daily lives

Modern technologies are progressively becoming an integral part of our everyday lives. Although we are often unaware of it, many devices or virtual services are now powered by the key emerging technology of artificial intelligence (AI).

For example, we can find AI in various mobile phone applications, smart TVs, autonomous cars, voice assistants, web search engines, translation software, social networks that select posts for us, or streaming services that recommend content based on our preferences. AI now even writes novels and plays. This is not an exhaustive list – we can say that today, AI can be found virtually anywhere, where a given product is able to create, modify, decide, predict, learn or otherwise influence its environment with some degree of autonomy based on the data that it collects.

The benefits and challenges that AI brings

On the one hand, AI undoubtedly contributes to modern society moving forward. By analysing large amounts of data, it can see connections where the naked eye would struggle to do so. It can predict patterns of behaviour, facilitate decision-making, choose an effective way to achieve a given goal. It helps us save the precious time that we have and makes us more effective.

On the other hand, the phrase “with some degree of autonomy” raises several questions that have been already  heard in society. What if the AI misjudges something and causes damage to property or injury to a person because the data which the AI would make its decision on would be incomplete or contain errors? What if the AI favours one group of people over another because it was trained on data that contained some stereotypical biases? What if useful and relatively harmless AI-based software would be used for purposes that European society cannot identify with?

These are also challenges associated with AI that we need to address, such as ensuring that the technologies that we use are safe and trained on quality datasets that do not lead to discrimination against people. Further, ensuring that AI technologies do not misuse personal data to manipulate it through subliminal techniques and do not inappropriately invade people’s privacy. It should be guaranteed that the same rules are observed in the physical and the digital space.

Response to the challenges of AI

The European Commission is aware of the potential of this technology and the possible risks that it may pose. Therefore, in April last year, after several years of discussions with the Member States, experts and other stakeholders, the Commission came up with the world’s first-ever proposal for regulating artificial intelligence, the so-called AI Act. Unlike the regulation of digital services on the Internet, now we face challenges in real-time.

The aim of this proposal is, therefore, to provide clear and consistent requirements and obligations under which AI systems can be marketed, operated or used so that they are trustworthy, transparent and operate in accordance with EU values and fundamental rights. The European Commission is seeking to maintain its technological leadership while at the same time taking advantage of the importance of the European internal market to create legislation that will sooner or later apply to the whole world.

The AI Act focuses primarily on the risks associated with AI systems and sets out a four-tier scale of risks based on the degree of interference with human rights. Although the draft regulation contains a wide range of rules and obligations along the entire AI value chain, it will ultimately cover only around 15% of the riskiest systems which can potentially have a high impact on humans if malfunction. Certain types of AI systems that are contrary to EU values and principles are proposed to a complete ban in the EU.

The draft regulation is not only about creating an ecosystem of trust and legal certainty but also about fostering an innovative environment through so-called regulatory sandboxes in which innovative AI applications can be tested. Regulatory sandboxes are also an important supportive tool for SMEs and start-ups.

Importance of AI for Czechia

AI and the proposed regulation are truly essential topics for Czechia. Being a middle-sized and export-oriented country with a long industrial history, we are fully aware of the importance of AI technologies for our society and economy. Its use is key in future development and strengthening competitiveness not only at national and European but also at a global level. Czechia’s ambition is to become an innovation leader in Europe and to be at the centre of the cooperation of the best scientists and developers in the field of AI.

Czechia is a technology-oriented country with top scientists, research institutions and successful technology companies and start-ups. Among other things, in order to foster digital innovation in Czech regions,  there are nine fully operational Digital innovation hubs (DIHs) and additional four are to be prepared, while six of the existing hubs have been appointed to join the European Digital Innovation Hubs network. Following the 2019 Czech National Artificial Intelligence Strategy (NAIS) and the European AI strategy, Czechia supports the AI Testing and Experimentation Facilities (TEF) aiming to optimise development and deployment of AI. Experimenting and testing state-of-the-art technologies in a real-world environment is an important step in bringing new technologies to market, where the TEF should play a key role in AI testing in important economic and societal sectors. Equally, Czechia in its digital innovative ecosystem endorses top-class research at the AI Center of excellence.

According to a recent study prepared for the European Commission, Czechia ranks at the top in Europe in the implementation of AI technology in companies. The proportion of enterprises having adopted at least one AI technology is 61% in Czechia. The adoption of two or more technologies is also highest in Czechia with 40%. The use of this cutting-edge technology helps Czechia to become an innovative economy and to support national companies and further economic growth.

One of the objectives of the NAIS is to support digital transformation, especially regarding the development of start-ups and SMEs, which are the backbone of the Czech economy. The basis of this support is the transfer of technology and innovation from R&D directly to SMEs, the financing of high-tech innovation and the development of new brands and businesses with a global reach. It is therefore essential to create conditions for responsible and trusted AI on the European market that ensure a transparent, predictable and secure environment and that encourage research and innovation, while ensuring shared European values and protection of our fundamental rights.

Czechia’s view on the regulation of AI

Czechia considers the proposed AI Act to be ambitious and bold. Its outlined objectives and principles are broadly in line with how we would envision such a regulation, particularly in terms of a risk-based, and human-centric approach. Yet, at the same time, we aim to refrain from burdensome overregulation that would put innovative European businesses at unnecessary risk. The right balance between innovation and regulation is what we are seeking for.

For us, it is important to create harmonised rules that facilitate the development, operation and free movement of AI services and products in the EU internal market and encourage the competitiveness of this dynamic sector. Following the objectives of the 2021 review of the Coordinated plan on AI, we are determined to contribute to the EU’s efforts to become a global leader in this field.

However, we must not forget to keep our aims consistent with the principles of the protection of fundamental rights, health and safety. We firmly support the prohibition of certain AI practices, in particular, social scoring and systems using subliminal and manipulative techniques. There is no place for such practices in the European society.

The regulation should not hinder fair competition and unduly restrict scientific cooperation with our partners from third countries, such as the USA, the United Kingdom, Israel, South Korea and others. We believe that engaging in a close international cooperation is truly beneficial, especially, when it comes to AI development, fostering common standards, mitigating potential challenges or sharing experiences among developed democracies. In the context of research and development and market introduction of AI systems, we are keen on setting favourable conditions for the use of regulatory sandboxes, especially with regard to SMEs and start-ups.

Our interest is that AI should be credible, safe, responsible and non-discriminatory. We emphasize safety, protection of consumers and their rights, and privacy. In some respects, we see the scope of the proposed regulation and the definition of the AI system itself as too broad, which could limit existing tools (e.g. of law enforcement authorities) and systems that do not pose a high risk.

In view of the upcoming Czech Presidency of the Council of the European Union in the second half of this year, we see the negotiation of the AI Act as an important agenda that we intend to intensively focus on in the Telecommunications Council . Assuming the honest broker role, we are ready to seek the well-balanced consensus of the Member States on sensitive issues.


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