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Margrethe Vestager: there’s “no limit” to how AI can benefit humans

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  • Margrethe Vestager, the European Commissioner for Competition, offered a highly optimistic assessment of AI’s potential impact on society, saying she sees “no limit to how AI can support what we do as humans.” 
  • Vestager was speaking at the Web Summit tech conference in Lisbon, Portugal on Thursday, where she tackled a range of topics relating to emerging technologies, personal data, and the conduct of tech giants such as Facebook.
  • The Danish politician has recently taken up a role titled “Executive Vice President for A Europe Fit for the Digital Age.” Though the role is effectively a continuation of her competition commission job, it includes increased powers and oversight, and will see her set the agenda for EU regulation of AI.
  • Vestager has become notorious for meting out heavy punishments to the Silicon Valley tech giants in recent years as European Commissioner for Competition. It’s arguably the most senior regulatory job in European politics.
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EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager, a frequent opponent to Silicon Valley tech firms, says she sees “no limit to how AI can support what we do as humans.” 

Given the Dane’s status as arguably the most aggressive regulator of big tech on the planet — she hit Google with a €4.3 billion ($4.75 billion) fine in July 2018 and ordered Apple to pay Ireland back €13 billion ($14.3 billion) in “illegal” tax benefits in 2016 — Vestager’s optimism about AI could be viewed as surprising.

On the flipside, her positivity about AI’s potential could be viewed as highly consistent with strinent approach to regulating big tech: given how integral big tech is to AI research and development, Vestager’s approach more likely reflects her keenness that big tech doesn’t jeopardize AI’s potential.

In September, the EU appointed Vestager to a role titled “Executive Vice President for A Europe fit for the Digital Age,” effectively a continuation of her competition commission job, but with increased powers and oversight. It will see her set the agenda for the EU’s regulation of artificial intelligence, among other regulatory duties.

Discussing the role at the Web Summit tech conference in Lisbon, Portugal on Thursday, Vestager said: “The first thing we will do is, of course, to listen very, very carefully, and we’ll try to listen fast, because as we’re speaking, AI is developing.”

“That is wonderful, because I see no limits to how artificial intelligence can support what we want to do as humans,” she continued. “Take climate change. I think we can be much more effective in fighting climate change if we use artificial intelligence.

“I think we can save people awful, stressful waiting time between having been examined by a doctor and having the result of that examination, and maybe also more precise results in doing that. So I think the benefits of using artificial intelligence [have] no limits,” she said. 

“But we need to get in control of certain cornerstones so that we can trust it, and it has human oversight, and — very importantly — that it doesn’t have bias.”

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