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AI Excellence: From the lab to the market

The Coordinated Plan aims to ensure AI excellence from the lab to the market by promoting research in AI, encouraging uptake of AI, and funding innovation.

AI excellence
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One of the key proposals of the updated Coordinated Plan on AI is to make the EU the place where excellence thrives from the lab to the market. To achieve this, the Commission proposes actions to facilitate an ecosystem of excellence. These actions will encourage: world-class foundational and application-oriented research; development, deployment and uptake of AI; and measures to fund and scale innovative ideas and solutions for AI.

World-class research

The EU has a strong knowledge base. The Commission will build on this base to ensure that the EU has a strong ecosystem of excellence, including world-class foundational and application oriented research. To help drive excellence in research and mobilise research capacities the Commission will, among other actions:

  • set up the European Partnership on AI, Data and Robotics
  • set up an AI lighthouse for Europe
  • fund additional networks of AI excellence centres

A European Partnership on AI, Data and Robotics

The partnership will build bridges between stakeholders to drive excellence, innovation and uptake of AI, data and robotics technologies. This will enable the European vision of human-centric and trustworthy AI to flourish. It will establish links to Member States and promote coordination with national or regional initiatives. The partnership builds on previous public-private partnerships (PPPs) such as the big data value PPP and EU robotics PPP. It brings together the AI community represented by major European associations and initiatives including EurAI, CLAIRE and ELLIS.

AI lighthouse for Europe

The AI lighthouse for Europe initiative aims to build an alliance of strong European research organisations. These organisations will share a common roadmap to support excellence in research, align national AI efforts, foster innovation and investment, and attract and retain AI talent in Europe. The initiative will bring together leading players from research, universities and industry in Europe to work on commonly agreed ambitious challenges, with the overarching aim of becoming world-wide reference for excellence in AI. Europe’s diversity will stimulate healthy competition, rather than the fragmentation of the AI community.  The initiative builds on and complements the vibrant European network of AI excellence centres that was launched under Horizon 2020.

Development, deployment and uptake of AI

Proposed actions to bring innovation from the ‘lab to the market’ cover a whole AI ‘life cycle’. To ensure the broad uptake and deployment of AI technologies, the Commission together with Member States will:

  • co-fund world-class Reference Testing and Experimentation Facilities
  • set-up a network of European Digital Innovation Hubs
  • consolidate the European AI-on-demand platform

World-class reference testing and experimentation facilities

To accelerate deployment and foster wide uptake of trustworthy AI across Europe, the Commission will co-fund testing and experimentation facilities (TEFs). These facilities will provide developers with the means to test AI technology in real or close-to-real conditions before bringing it to the market.  The first TEFs will focus on manufacturing, healthcare, agri-food, smart cities and communities, and edge AI.

European Digital Innovation Hubs

A network of up to 210 European Digital Innovation Hubs (EDIHs) covering all regions of Europe will help to stimulate the broad uptake of AI, HPC, cybersecurity and other digital technologies. EDIHs will share best practices and collaborate to offer the best support to SMEs and public sector organisations in their adoption of AI. They will help companies to innovate their new products and services with AI and make them market ready.

The European AI-on-demand platform

Envisioned as a central European toolbox for AI resources, the European AI-on-demand platform will provide easy and simple access to AI tools. These tools and resources include algorithms, AI-based products and solutions, expertise, services, and access to data and cloud infrastructure.

European Digital Innovation Hubs will distribute these toolboxes locally. Industry, including small and medium-sized enterprises, and the public sector, will be able to access and use the toolbox directly. The platform builds on an initiative funded in Horizon 2020 aiming to provide a one-stop-shop for AI knowledge and resources.

Fund and scale innovative ideas and solutions

The Coordinated Plan continues to focus on measures to fund and scale innovative ideas and solutions for AI. The proposed actions include support for AI-developing startups, scaleups, and other small and medium sized enterprises.

With Member States, the Commission aims to:

  • strengthen the support and funding for the AI/Blockchain Investment pilot and support programme
  • implement the European Innovation Council (EIC) under Horizon Europe and support disruptive innovation, with a focus on human-centric AI. This will be done through a mix of open and challenge-driven calls for funding. The 2021 EIC Pathfinder Challenge will focus on AI awareness research while the EIC Accelerator Challenge will foster strategic digital and health technologies, including medical AI. In addition, the Women TechEU initiative to be launched to support deep-tech start-ups founded and led by women;
  • mobilise AI start-ups in national hubs and Horizon Europe through Startup Europe and the Innovation Radar. This will help start-ups that are eager to scale up and it will meet the demand for AI expertise from SMEs embarking on digital transformation.

Financing

Maximising resources and coordinating investments is vital and a critical component of the Commission’s AI strategy. Through the Digital Europe programme and the Horizon Europe programme, the Commission plans to invest €1 billion per year in AI. The aim is to mobilise additional investments from the private sector and the Member States in order to reach an annual investment volume of €20 billion over the course of this decade. The newly adopted Recovery and Resilience Facility, the largest stimulus package ever financed through the EU budget, makes €134 billion available for digital and will be a game-changer allowing Europe to amplify its ambitions and become global leaders in developing cutting-edge trustworthy AI.

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