Leveraging AI in the Age of Pandemics. The VideoTalk with Lucilla Sioli (DG CNECT)


“Leveraging AI in the age of pandemics. Beating Covid-19, Preventing the Next Crisis”. This is the title of the VideoTalk held on 12 June by I-Com – Institute for Competitiveness, with guest speaker Lucilla Sioli, Director of ‘Artificial Intelligence and Digital Industry’, DG CNECT of the European Commission.

Bringing together EU institution representatives, research and business organisations, trade and consumer associations and other relevant stakeholders, the VideoTalk offered the opportunity to discuss how AI-driven solutions are playing a key role in multiple aspects of the response to the COVID-19 crisis in Europe – from accelerating medical research on drugs and treatments to predicting the evolution of the virus – and to take stock of the Commission’s AI strategy in view of the awaited presentation of the legislative proposals.

The VideoTalk was opened with a speech by I-Com President Stefano da Empoli. The main speaker, Lucilla Sioli, then took the floor. There followed an open debate moderated by Mattia Ceracchi, I-Com Head of EU Affairs, before Ms Sioli’s final remarks.

What are the main lessons to be drawn from Covid-19 for the digital future of European industry and AI policies? Where should AI investments be readdressed to tackle the challenges posed by the pandemic? How can the need to accelerate research and development be reconciled with respect for EU fundamental principles, especially for the rules set out in the GDPR framework? What are the key steps in the EU decision-making process from now to the presentation of the legislative proposals on AI?

The Covid-19 pandemic has revealed the importance of accessing connectivity and digital technologies for a multitude of actors – individuals, families, educational institutions, small businesses, companies and governments. Artificial Intelligence has proven to be a comprehensive asset to be potentially exploited to support and implement a wide variety of different applications. In reacting to the coronavirus emergency, AI has been used in several fields, e.g. drug and vaccine research, drawing up projections over the virus’ spread, development of contact tracing apps.

Another important issue further highlighted by the Covid-19 crisis is the known dichotomy between the need for a robust regulatory framework guaranteeing citizens’ protection and rights, and the parallel need to foster research and development in the digital sector. If, on the one hand, it is undeniable that regulation could potentially slow down the innovation process, on the other hand, it is of major importance in guaranteeing citizen and patient safety, particularly concerning medical devices. In order to ensure the best balance between the above-mentioned needs, the Commission has decided to postpone its proposal for a regulatory framework to the first quarter of 2021.

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