European Research and Innovation Days 2020: Tägliche Kurzberichte "Digitalisation (Hub 3)"

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Hub 3: Digitalisation


As part of the agenda on digitalization, the topics discussed in the hub a Europe fit for the digital age are centred on a new public-private Partnership (PPP) in Europe on AI (Artificial Intelligence), data and robotics. The overall vision of this PPP is to exploit the potential of data for AI and robotics in line with European fundamental rights, principles and values, which aims to increase European competitiveness, to support environment, climate and sustainability and to create societal impact.

Discussions took place on how a human-centred and inclusive approach can be facilitated by the new PPP. Thereby, some of the key issues are about 

  • how to involve all players in the research and innovation lifecycle across the whole value chain, 
  • how to deal with societal and economic implications and ethical challenges such as gender and ethnicity biases in AI, 
  • how Europe can provide a unique and motivating framework for successful RDI by motivated talents.

On the first day of the R&I days, the digitalization hub organized different sessions to discuss the topic of AI, data and robotics. The first session introduced the new PPP in detail, the second tackled the issue of bias in AI and the third also provided insights into how well balanced partnerships can be formed for future calls: 

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE & Robotics, Today & Tomorrow

  • Data drives new AI algorithms and robotic systems
  • RDI, ethical adoption and competitiveness is supported by a new public-private partnership (PPP) in Europe on AI (Artificial Intelligence), data and robotics
  • The goal is to establish European leadership while remaining compatible with European fundamental rights, principles and values

Mitigating gender & ethnicity BIASES IN AI

  • Social implications and risks arise from bias encoded in AI technology 
  • A common understanding among diverse groups interested in AI systems has to be facilitated
  • Ethics guidelines for trustworthy AI and government regulations are required in the interest of the public

AI, data and robotics – building wider synergies around Europe

  • EU values enable a unique and motivating framework for successful RDI and attract intrinsically motivated talents
  • The required balance between research, industry and the new innovation forces/communities like start-ups and high-tech companies calls for an open, collaborative and inclusive mindset
  • A first Call from the PPP on AI, data and robotics is expected in Fall 2021


Data for HEALTH

The content of the hub discussion was dedicated to the question how digitalisation is effecting the health sector and which digital technologies are most relevant. A special focus was on the areas of data management, Artificial Intelligence and ethics.

With the outbreak and rapid spread of Covid-19 in the world, the importance of availability and exchange of data to better predict, model, control and cure diseases has become even more evident than before. 

The EC started by introducing their own activities in the field of data for health, e.g. the Communication on Digital transformation of Health and Care, the 1 Million Genomes initiative, the European health data space and in the context of Covid-19 the work on Digital tools to support contact tracing. 

Helen Johnson gave a presentation on the Modelling of Covid-19, from data to forecasts. The ECDC uses mathematical modelling incorporating different data sources. The outbreak of Covid-19 “helped them to jump ahead on incorporating data into their models”, but also showed the extremely high potential for more efficiency in sharing of health data on European level. 

Niklas Blomberg explained the work on “ELIXIR – data for life”, which is a distributed life sciences research infrastructure with 23 national nodes. They developed the Covid-19 data portal together with EMBL-EBI and our national partners. This could only be done in such a short time because they had a well-established network and commitment by member states, and European funding was the basis for their work.  

Anett Madi-Nator shared her view from a cybersecurity perspective, and the threats affecting the health care industry, which is highly affected by data breaches. There is a high financial impact and costs of data breach, we are paying a high price for health data being compromised. Europe needs a centrally supported cybersecurity data space.

Milan Petković highlighted the industrial perspective. Digital transformation is driving exponential growth of health data (e.g. from personal health tracking, medical imaging, patient monitoring, home monitoring, pathology and genomics. Philipps for example develops innovative AI data driven solutions to save health. Data need to have proper quality, and we need to bring them together. The main challenges are an increased reuse of data held by the public sector, a support for voluntary data sharing by individuals, (infra)structures to enable data sharing, interoperability and standardization.

Ethics and Artificial Intelligence in MEDICAL RESEARCH: Can We Have It All?

The intention of this session is to deliberate on the ways for maximising the benefits that AI may bring in the healthcare sector while avoiding situations where these may come at a ‘price’ to ethics.

Jean-Eric Paquet, Director-General (DG RTD, European Commission) briefly joined the session. He emphasized that AI is reflected in the entire programme of Horizon Europe, providing knowledge and solutions in many different fields and AI helps in upcoming transformation processes. Still, access of AI to all citizens is of high importance. In addition, he stressed that ethics is in the heart of AI development like in many other technologies.

Following the question on how AI worked so far, six months after the Covid-19 crisis started, and how ethical standards work in Europe, Gry Hasselbalch concluded that we did ok during this period. She mentioned that key ethical requirements need to be considered, e.g. when decisions were required which patients could be treated in hospitals that were running out of beds, decisions on treatments etc. Still, ethical assessments and procedures are not new and Europe can rely on given standards. Importantly, ethics is much more than normative framework and needs to be implemented in all applications.

Nicky Hekster pointed out that for the first time competitors from technology companies came together, joined forces and built consortia. AI solutions helped on high performance computing, allowing to work on the identification of Covid-19 structure, having rather in silico than in vitro experiments for this. Information was provided in a very fast way to population and governmental decision bodies, providing transparency about the disease and how to cope with it. AI applications could be envisaged as gold clinical standards, presenting norms and values for doctors and patients, making it explainable and transparent, showing us where data are coming from. He also stressed that same insights in ethics in Eurpoe are needed as they differ from country to country.

Siobhan O'Sullivan emphasized that there are already very good standards, paying off during the pandemic. Without trust and transparency, the European population wouldn’t have supported many decisions during the last few months. Still, many discussions were ongoing about tracing apps, putting privacy issues and transparency under discussion. We further need to reflect about the relationship between doctors, patients and their families, which was neglected during this time, underestimating the impact on mental and physical health.


Towards a Champions League for Transition to SUSTAINABILITY

The focus was the Transformations Performance Index (TPI), a composite index being currently developed. This index aims to measure progress along four transitions: economic, social, environmental and governance. The TPI (composed of 25 indicators linked to the UN Sustainable Development Goals) mirrors EU priorities (e.g. Green Deal, Economy that works for people, Promoting the European way of life, a new push for European democracy) and complements existing frameworks (e.g. Eurostat SDG monitoring report), but also offers added value through international comparison, readability and the ranking of countries.

Several of the panellists praised the new indicator and offered suggestions for improving it, like for example the inclusion of vulnerable groups indicators (gender, youth, people with disabilities), or the inclusion of indicators measuring spill-over effects and and dealing with the absolute rather than only relative effectiveness of resource use (e.g. overshoot days or ecological footprint). The TPI will be presented with a report and a website in November 2020.


This session focused on the key challenges and opportunities related to the future of work and examined how R&I can help to mitigate the impact of transformative trends. Digital and cognitive skills are becoming increasingly important for the workforce.

One point of discussion was the concern about a polarisation in some sectors, where high and low paid jobs increase and the middle category of jobs comes under pressure, and the hope that the EU's economic recovery Facility would provide an impetus to improve the quality of the workforce's skills, as well as concerns about youth employment. The need to broaden the concept of work to include atypical, unpaid and care work was also stressed.
It was noted that the “future of work“ has already arrived in many ways – a rapid transformation is observed with respect to new business models and the increased role of working from home.

The last aspect that emerged from the discussion was the increasingly important role of platforms selling services over the internet.

These jobs are generally unregulated, and although there are many benefits associated with working on platforms, there are also many risks, such as zero-hour contracts – which raises the question of regulating this growing market.

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