Interview & Opinion

“We need to be more ambitious”

Cecilia Bonefeld-Dahl is convinced that technological progress has changed the world for the better. According to the IT expert, Europe needs more speed and common goals in the competition for innovation. Source: DigitalEurope

FWF: From the outside one can get the impression that developments in the field of Artifical Intelligence (AI) are overrunning us. This creates insecurity and fear among citizens. Do you share this observation?

Cecilia Bonefeld-Dahl: The word ‘artificial intelligence’ is often misleading. All the technologies to date are only tools to help enable humans in our tasks. What previously took years to process, like large amounts of data, can now be done in days. Applying such technologies to medical research can make large strides towards curing life threatening diseases. AI is not a new thing. The planes we have been flying on for decades use AI for take-off and landing as well as make important corrections during difficult weather conditions.

FWF: As Director General of DIGITALEUROPE, an industry stakeholder group, you are committed to a strong digital Europe based on European values. How do you intend to reconcile public and economic interests?

Bonefeld-Dahl: I do not see our work differing from the public good. Our members are part of the civil society providing technologies that will reduce energy consumption, green house causes and improve education, healthcare and almost every facet of our lives and planet. The past few decades millions of people across the world have been bootstrapped out of poverty and we have become a smaller more connected planet. My concern is that we are not moving fast enough. There is too much unfounded fears, policy making based on populist views, the rise of protectionism, and overall the resistance to step out of our comfort zone. This should be a race to implement these technologies for a smart grid, improved health services and drive for innovation on the biggest challenges facing our society.

There is too much unfounded fears.

Cecilia Bonefeld-Dahl

FWF: Digitalization already has changed the way we work a lot. This trend will continue and will require new skills. Are we ready for it?

Bonefeld-Dahl: While automation is set to cause job losses it is foreseen that it will also create 58 million more jobs than it will displace. To ensure job losses are minimised will require reskilling. In some cases (13%), reskilling would take less than a month. But for 12% of employees, reskilling could take more than a year. In addition, there are challenges ahead: upskilling the manufacturing sector – 52% of the current European workforce needs retraining before 2022.

FWF: How can these requirements be met?

Bonefeld-Dahl: The digital transformation of European industries will require reskilling and upskilling the workforce to be integrated into the process of automation. It has become clear that robotics and automation cannot function without human involvement and oversight. This will require accelerating an action plan involving industry, trade unions, institutes, NGOs, governments from all member states to be involved in developing and leveraging public funds to reskill the workforce and ensure workers are not excluded as the industry transforms, achieving full employment. A workforce with digital skills is mission critical for the EU’s growth and to mitigate any impact on job losses caused by the digital transformation. The EU and governments should collaborate with our industry to deliver an assessment on the skills gap in each Member State and define solutions.

Digital skills will be mission critical for the EU’s growth.

Cecilia Bonefeld-Dahl

FWF: What about the educational sector?

Bonefeld-Dahl: Besides the necessary initiatives outlined above on reskilling and upskilling of the European workforce, specific emphasis is to be laid on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education in predominately secondary schools. It is important to note that there are already many initiatives and networks in place that address STEM education, and this is a high asset for the continuation of the effort. It will be crucial to streamline activities on national and European level and increasingly bring the regional and municipal policymakers to the core of the discussion.

STEM is to be included better than today in school curricula and should be taught in a holistic and integrative manner between the different subjects. Existing best practices should be shared, and teachers should be included much more in the development and identification of new skills relevant to the digital age. Schools should be provided on a European scale with relevant educational equipment which will enable students to experiment and make their own active experiences with translating analogue data into digital applications.

FWF: What areas of AI should Europe invest in?

Bonefeld-Dahl: It is less of a question on where to invest but more a priority on how much. However, the sectors like Health Care, Manufacturing and Public services such as transportation, education and public administration are areas where we lead and should continue to do so.

Leading experts at European Forum Alpbach

On 23 August 2019, the Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research and FWF will host a Breakout Session on Artificial Intelligence and Governance at the European Forum Alpbach. At the session, chaired by FWF President Klement Tockner, Cecilia Bonefeld-Dahl will talk about how AI governance can strengthen European values. She is part of a panel of international experts, among them Meredith Broussard of New York University and Sepp Hochreiter of University Linz, who will discuss how AI and Big Data will impact politics, industry and public administration.

FWF: How much investment is needed?

Bonefeld-Dahl: We are losing the race to other global regions in AI investment. While we applaud the current Digital Europe investment that will deploy AI technologies and be the rocket fuel for SMEs to create new innovation and services, the proposed amount of 9.2 billion euros is far too little. Along with Horizon 2020 of course which should not fall below the proposed 94.1 billion euros. I recall that back in March 2018, former European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker defended a budget between 120 and 160 billion euros for the research programme, much higher than what has been proposed.

We are losing the race to other regions in AI investment.

Cecilia Bonefeld-Dahl

Member States need to have the courage to ensure the proposed budget remains intact. This will allow the creation of Artifical Intelligence and drive a new wave of creation of new scalable European companies with global reach carrying democratic and ethical values in the international business environment. We need this as Europe only has 5% of the worlds fast-growing global Unicorns. This is not sustainable. We need to be much more ambitious. We also should be able to have the incentives and assurances built into our policies to attract investment to the EU.

FWF: Can and should Europe compete with the USA and China?

Bonefeld-Dahl: Of course we can. Europe has been the home of innovation for centuries, and that will not go away. New technologies will continue to be born here, and our industries will lead in such areas as government services or manufacturing.

FWF: The advancing digital transformation raises numerous legal and ethical questions on topics such as data protection, copyright or taxation. Is there a need for a new regulatory framework at European level and if so, in what period of time?

Bonefeld-Dahl: Europe has the strongest data protection rules ever created. Many people forget that the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) was created to ensure people can share information, own their personal data such as health records, and know they can access it anywhere in the EU. It is a powerful tool that other countries are now looking at and trying to replicate. Copyright was also completed. Other areas such as tax or new recommendations should require more time, studies, facts and dialogue before rushing out new rules. Tax is a good example where some countries are ‘jumping the gun’ before the OECD can conclude its work.

EU countries should spend 3% of its GDP on research and innovation.

Cecilia Bonefeld-Dahl

FWF: A current strategy paper by DIGITALEUROPE formulates goals and visions up to 2025 that address key areas from innovation and sustainability to social inclusion. How realistic is the implementation of such a plan within this time frame?

Bonefeld-Dahl: We took over 12 months developing our Stronger Digital Europe paper in cooperation with a wide group of stakeholders. The paper provides EU policymakers important targets we have determined are feasible if the right political and legal frameworks are in place to create and deploy technologies. We have asked for the EU to save 26 billion tonnes of CO2 by digitising resource-intensive sectors, Europe to be the home of 25% of the worlds unicorns and EU countries should spend 3% of its GDP on research and innovation. Our recommendations in that paper will help ensure the EU can get there. We now need political will and courage.

FWF: Finally, a personal question: Can you imagine being nursed by a robot in old age?

Bonefeld-Dahl: I certainly hope my kids will have such a resource to ensure I am safe and healthy with my vital details being monitored and shared with them. Most importantly, our health services will allow me to stay on my farm with my horses and not in a retirement hospital.


Cecilia Bonefeld-Dahl is Director General of DIGITALEUROPE, digital technology industry association representing over 35.000 digital companies Europe. She is a Member of the European Commission’s High Level Expert Group on Artificial Intelligence, a Board Member of the European Commission’s Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition, and a Board Member of the European Parliament-led European Internet Forum. Bonefeld-Dahl has more than 20 years of experience in the ICT industry. She previously held positions at IBM and Oracle as well as with SMEs, building business across Europe and China and founding the cloud provider GlobeIT.

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