The technology ministers of nine Mediterranean countries pledged to support the adoption of the European Commission’s proposed AI act in an agreement signed on Wednesday.
The technology ministers of Malta, Spain, Croatia, Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Slovenia met at the Techxpo in Ta' Qali to discuss harnessing the challenges of artificial intelligence.
In a press conference following the meeting, Minister Silvio Schembri said that the group had drafted a joint statement in which they agreed to support the EU’s AI act to promote the creation of “safe and lawful AI systems while promoting innovation in Europe”.
They pledged to work towards making sure that undue administrative burden is not placed on startups and small enterprises, as well as to invest in robust AI infrastructure as well as research and development centres.
The nine ministers also said that their countries would work towards leveraging the potential of AI within their public service departments to improve efficiency in governance as well as use trustworthy AI in the fight against cybercrime as well as protect data privacy.
AI innovation cannot be developed in a vacuum - Silvio Schembri
During the opening remarks of the meeting, to which the media was invited to attend, Schembri said that the region as well as Europe at large have a limited window to shape the policies and guidelines for AI technology before it is rolled out for mainstream use, and thus, legislators have a unique responsibility to protect the public without hampering the potential for innovation in different sectors that could make use of the technology.
AI, he said, has the potential to revolutionise key industries, stimulate economic growth and improve the lives of citizens, however, governments have a great responsibility to ensure that the benefits of AI are shared equitably and that its development is aligned with the shared values of the region.
To reach this goal, Schembri continued, it is important to harness the technology while seriously addressing the issues, such as data privacy, security and the impact on employment and society at large that it gives rise to.
“AI has the potential to revolutionise every facet of human life and making best use of it is not just about keeping pace with technological advancement but setting the pace for the rest of the world to follow,” he said.
“Bridging the gap is not merely an option but an imperative exercise that will shape a future where technology serves as a force for collaboration and the common good.”
‘Technology must move to people and not vice versa’
The European Commission’s director general for Communications Networks, Content and Technology, Roberto Viola, said that it is imperative to pave a way forward that sees the infrastructure needed for technological innovation being accessible to all EU citizens and not forcing those who seek to utilise it to move.
There is something of a tendency to forget southern Europe and the Mediterranean region until there is a problem, Viola said adding that those problems then tend to be so big that they destabilise the rest of Europe.
MED 9 leaders, he continued, have a responsibility that goes beyond technology and strive to have technology and innovation move closer to people rather than force people to relocate to access them.
“We have the means to bring peace, development, democracy, security, and eventually every common goal in Europe to the region,” he said.
“But to do that we need to step up the technological development of the region and make sure that when people are moving away, they are doing so by choice and not because it is a necessity.”
It is necessary for the region to continue investing in the necessary infrastructure to support all of its citizens in accessing innovative technology.
Viola also said that AI could be a powerful new ally in anticipating and preparing for emergencies and extreme events in the region.
When it comes to making use of AI in areas that are of keen public interest, its applications for keeping the Mediterranean safe and healthy, particularly through understanding climate science or extreme weather events and coordinating emergencies, must be seriously looked at.
“We know that an emergency will come, we pray that it does not, but we know that it will,” Viola said.
“So being prepared to tackle it is of paramount importance.”
He added that European countries can count on the Commission’s support when it comes to exploring the possibilities of AI, particularly in areas such as healthcare, preserving cultural heritage, product development and agriculture.
“Europe is determined to continue to help this region to grow,” he said.
“It is not just about quoting the price for one thing or the other, but by structurally changing the course of history.”
Correction September 23, 2023: A previous version misstated the EU entity involved as the European Parliament.