The race is on in the global platform economy and artificial intelligence (data economy). Global platform giants and superpowers are seeking to claim leadership in the data-driven economy. Research indicates that the data economy can yield very significant improvements in wellbeing from the perspective of societies, organisations and citizens alike. Accenture and McKinsey forecast that economic growth in Finland could as much as double if the country adopts a proactive approach to harnessing the opportunities of data and artificial intelligence. A similar result is expected at the EU level, depending on the EU’s investments in promoting the data market.
It’s time for Europe to wake up, as the polarisation typical of the data economy is already posing challenges to us. Europe must remain competitive, or we will face the prospect of falling significantly behind in productivity development compared to markets with strong strategies. A large-scale brain drain is under way, which impacts Finland as well, while AI investments are focused on China and the United States. In a recent article, The Economist compared the competition between the oligarchy of US platform giants and the Chinese autocracy to the Cold War. Even if the actual situation is not as dramatic as this, it is still worrying that Europe has been primarily left out of the conversation.
While AI is nearing the peak of the hype cycle, recent news from around the world means that there is now a call for a European alternative for the future of the data economy. Both the US and Chinese strategies have a weak link: trust. An alternative built on European strengths is required, a democratic data economy. It must solve two critical key issues better than any competing strategy: how scattered data can be mobilised and how to ensure responsibility in the data economy.
Europe is characterised by highly scattered data and investments in AI: each organisation that manages data is generally responsible for its innovations. Weak access to data is one of the major barriers to entry into this field. In the European environment, data mobility will in practice determine how efficiently we can create new AI innovations to improve the wellbeing of our citizens. Not even great investments can create miracles if innovators cannot tap into the data flows that enable development.
We must also answer the question of how to ensure responsible use of AI. The data economy must be built on the trust of citizens. At the same time, we must avoid creating conditions that turn us into “data cops” who are suspicious about the use of data. In the light of recent news that has shaken the data economy, it may be that the answer to this question is critically important. Restoring lost trust is very difficult for people, and almost impossible for companies.
The human-driven data economy now needs a strong Europe. We need a European data economy strategy to introduce a new voice into global competition that emphasises the right of citizens to rapidly benefit from the improvements AI ushers into our lives and which is based on our strong heritage in the protection of privacy and responsibility. This spring, both the European Commission’s AI strategy and the Finnish government’s report on data policy are under preparation. These efforts must solve the problem areas that are critically important to our competitiveness and ensure that Europe will have a voice in discussions on the future of the data economy. Why shouldn’t we in Finland show how the European strategy is implemented?