Long stories short
- TikTok promised it would invest “billions” in countries such as Indonesia as it focused on South-East Asia to drive growth.
- German online retailer Zalando mounted the first legal challenge to the EU’s Digital Services Act.
- Elon Musk’s mother said she had “cancelled” a planned fight between the Tesla founder and Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg.
Europe falls behind in AI
Rishi Sunak wants the UK to be a global artificial intelligence hub; Emmanuel Macron has pitched France as an AI leader. But the reality is that Europe is trailing behind the US and China.
So what? Things are likely to get worse. European companies are becoming increasingly dependent on American and Chinese behemoths to access AI-driven technologies. If innovation doesn’t improve, the continent will be reliant on technological and even moral AI choices dictated by the big tech giants.
Size matters. Tortoise’s Global AI Index, which measures 62 countries on their AI capacity, had its annual update this week. Its results reveal that the gap is growing between the US and China on one hand, and the rest of the world on the other. The gulf between the continents is particularly deep in the field of generative AI – the critical technology used to power ChatGPT and its competitors.
Since 2020, around 59 Large Language models, the programmes which can generate human-like text, have been developed. Of these:
- 39 originated from the US, with 28 developed directly by Meta, Google, Microsoft, OpenAI and Amazon;
- Ten came from China, with three from Baidu and two from Huawei;
- Three emerged from Europe – two from London-based, Google-owned DeepMind, and the other from a German-language model from startup Aleph Alpha. The company proudly states it is “pioneering sovereign, European AI technology”.
The US and China also dominate the underlying research. Tortoise’s Index reveals that over half of all generative AI research publications released last year were US or Chinese authored, compared to 13 per cent and 4 per cent from the EU and UK respectively. Many of these papers were written by researchers at US tech giants like Google, Meta or Microsoft AI labs.
Regulatory superpower. Europe could still regulate what others do. The EU’s draft AI act, currently working its way through Brussels, is the first piece of legislation of its kind and could be adopted as the de facto global standard. This month the act passed a crucial vote in the European Parliament.
But it may have been too early for its own good. The original legislation did not mention chatbots like ChatGPT, which now dominate the AI landscape. While lawmakers put in new provisions requiring chatbots to be transparent and comply with copyright rules, critics say not enough thought has gone into the balance between stimulating innovation and protecting the public.
Regulation could force US and Chinese companies into alignment with EU values. But companies like Google may consider fines – even billion-dollar ones – an unavoidable cost of doing business.
Catching up. Countries within the EU have taken matters into their own hands. France is investing €500 million to fund AI “champions”. “It is necessary that governments and public-private partnerships step in to invest,” said Jorg Bienert, head of the German AI Association. But Germany has stalled on a proposal to buy a €300 million supercomputer, in order to create a European large language model.
AI research conducted by non-profit or academic organisations might offer another answer. BLOOM, one such “open-source” large language model, was developed by a worldwide community of researchers and trained on France’s Jean Zay supercomputer with government backing. “Google won’t have all the best brains and neither will Open AI,” said Sir Nigel Shadbolt, chairman of the Open Data Institute.
Europe needs to move quickly. If it doesn’t take steps to catch the US and China in the next 18 months, the continent might fall permanently behind.
Also in this week’s Tech States Sensemaker:
- Apple criticises the Online Safety Bill over encryption
- Microsoft executive said it could “spend Sony out of business”
- Meta restricts news on its platforms
- Google News blocked in Russia in the wake of Wagner uprising
- Amazon reportedly named the cancellation process for its Prime membership the “Illiad”
- Tencent’s poor performance leads to Naspers profits almost halving
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