yesAnders Fogh RasmussenNone

Get access to Protocol

I’ve already subscribed

Will be used in accordance with our Privacy Policy


Europe doesn’t need ‘digital sovereignty’ — it needs to collaborate

The continent risks missing the bigger picture, even with its most recent attempt to reinvent itself as a tech superpower.

European Commission Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager

The European Commission has introduced new technology proposals, but they may not give the EU the boost it needs.

Photo: AFP via Getty Images

It's rare that I agree with Vladimir Putin. But he was spot on when he said whoever cracks artificial intelligence first will run the world.

The assumption in Washington, and among its allies, is that Silicon Valley will win the AI race for Uncle Sam and, subsequently, for the West. That attitude is dangerously complacent and may not end with "American First." Silicon Valley's big tech firms are heavily investing in AI, but collaboration between public and private sectors in the U.S. is lacking, and investment and talent is skewed toward big tech. China is catching up with America fast, and it could well emerge dominant.

Get what matters in tech, in your inbox every morning. Sign up for Source Code.

Meanwhile, Europe currently lags the two superpowers of America and China by a huge margin. It lacks China's access to data, low scruples, and the state firepower of centralized market control that are helping the People's Republic to make huge leaps in using the technology. And it lacks access to funding when compared with venture-capital rich North America: R&D spending in Europe was €2.4 billion to €3.2 billion in 2016, compared with €12.1 billion to €18.6 billion in North America.

This week, the European Commission took a first shot at rebalancing the scales. President Ursula von der Leyen announced a series of policy proposals aimed at increasing data access in Europe, laying the groundwork for human-centric AI, and advancing the so-called digital single market. For the moment, it's unclear whether these initiatives will take on a protectionist nature or whether they will create bridges to give Europe the boost it needs. Different elements of the strategy point in both directions.

These proposals are part of its attempt to forge a third way on technology that helps it regain its "digital sovereignty" in light of increasing distrust of its allies and its enemies. We see this wariness in the ongoing debate about engaging Huawei to build 5G infrastructure, as well as Europe's handling of the Silicon Valley giants' feigned pitch to be regulated. As a consequence, Europe risks missing the bigger picture.

Europe's nascent digital sovereignty is not best served by opening a third front in the battle. Instead, the EU should play to its strengths and build a Western partnership model across public, private, research and academic sectors for the world's democracies to win the AI race together.

As was the case with data flows and data protection, the EU is placing an emphasis on the ethical and human centric aspects of AI. China makes no such distinction. Beijing sees the national security potential: from using AI facial recognition to track minorities to developing autonomous weapons that select targets with no human input. It sees AI's potential free from the legal and ethical constraints of the West. As a consequence, a new silicon curtain between democracies and autocracies has been created. Allowing China to develop an AI edge could greatly threaten our security, privacy and freedoms for years to come.

Where should we start in preventing such a scenario? The U.S. has formed a National Security Commission on AI; the Western Alliance as a whole should participate in such exercises — first NATO allies, and later partners like Japan, and other like-minded nations in the Pacific, Asia, Africa and South America, to make recommendations. This broader alliance of like-minded democracies should find a formula for the exchange of data, potentially building on the EU's model of data adequacy agreements, to enable freer flow of data between allies.

Europe should also significantly increase its investment, including in NATO. We regularly hear of NATO's 2% target — where allies committed to spending 2% of GDP on defense. But we have also set another target of 20%, the amount that should be spent on new equipment and R&D. Let's increase it to 30, and let's see President Trump tweeting about this target, too.

Entering into such a partnership model should not mean that the EU blindly accepts a tech sector where the FAANGs — Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google — absorb or eliminate all competition and we allow data to be processed in an unscrupulous manner. The EU and the U.S. would have to learn how to do business with one another where data exchange is concerned. We are long overdue a comprehensive and all-encompassing trans-Atlantic data-sharing agreement that both sides are enthusiastic about.

Western democracies should see this as an opportunity to set down the standards for establishing global conventions that will regulate the development and use of AI for years to come. Such a move would reflect the wider partnership model adopted by Europe over the past 70 years — a model that has only ever made us stronger.

In the field of international relations, we understand that multipolar worlds are more unpredictable and prone to conflict. A Technological Alliance of Democracies — one that ushers in a more stable bipolar system — could win the race for AI while preventing the inevitable race to the bottom in the pursuit of marketplace dominance.

Despite the many political differences among Western democracies, we need only ask ourselves one question: Would we prefer a Communist dictatorship to win this race? Rather than pursuing our own individual vision of a perfect and sovereign AI model, we should instead work to establish an imperfect system that actually becomes a reality, and which serves the purposes of our democracies, our people, and the pursuit of peace.


Making the economy work for Black entrepreneurs

Funding for Black-owned startups needs to grow. That's just the start.

"There is no quick fix to close the racial wealth and opportunity gaps, but there are many ways companies can help," said Mastercard's Michael Froman.

Photo: DigitalVision/Getty Images

Michael Froman is the vice chairman and president of Strategic Growth for Mastercard.

When Tanya Van Court's daughter shared her 9th birthday wish list — a bike and an investment account — Tanya had a moment of inspiration. She wondered whether helping more kids get excited about saving for goals and learning simple financial principles could help them build a pathway to financial security. With a goal of reaching every kid in America, she founded Goalsetter, a savings and financial literacy app for kids. Last month, Tanya brought in backers including NBA stars Kevin Durant and Chris Paul, raising $3.9 million in seed funding.

Keep Reading Show less
Michael Froman
Michael Froman serves as vice chairman and president, Strategic Growth for Mastercard. He and his team drive inclusive growth efforts and partner across public and private sectors to address major societal and economic issues. From 2013 to 2017, Mike served as the U.S. trade representative, President Barack Obama’s principal adviser and negotiator on international trade and investment issues. He is a distinguished fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations and a member of the board of directors of The Walt Disney Company.
Sponsored Content

Building better relationships in the age of all-remote work

How Stripe, Xero and ModSquad work with external partners and customers in Slack channels to build stronger, lasting relationships.

Image: Original by Damian Zaleski

Every business leader knows you can learn the most about your customers and partners by meeting them face-to-face. But in the wake of Covid-19, the kinds of conversations that were taking place over coffee, meals and in company halls are now relegated to video conferences—which can be less effective for nurturing relationships—and email.

Email inboxes, with hard-to-search threads and siloed messages, not only slow down communication but are also an easy target for scammers. Earlier this year, Google reported more than 18 million daily malware and phishing emails related to Covid-19 scams in just one week and more than 240 million daily spam messages.

Keep Reading Show less

Bad news for Big Tech: Bipartisan agreement on antitrust reform

Democrats and Republicans found common ground during the first House hearing on antitrust of the new Congress. Here's what that means for tech giants.

The House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee held their first hearing of the 117th Congress.

Photo: Tom Williams/Getty Images

During the first House antitrust hearing of the new Congress, Democratic chairman David Cicilline and Republican ranking member Ken Buck made it clear they intend to forge ahead with a series of bipartisan reform efforts that could cut into the power of the largest technology companies.

"We will work on a serious bipartisan basis to advance these reforms together," Cicilline said during his opening remarks Thursday.

Keep Reading Show less
Emily Birnbaum

Emily Birnbaum ( @birnbaum_e) is a tech policy reporter with Protocol. Her coverage focuses on the U.S. government's attempts to regulate one of the most powerful industries in the world, with a focus on antitrust, privacy and politics. Previously, she worked as a tech policy reporter with The Hill after spending several months as a breaking news reporter. She is a Bethesda, Maryland native and proud Kenyon College alumna.

Transforming 2021

Blockchain, QR codes and your phone: the race to build vaccine passports

Digital verification systems could give people the freedom to work and travel. Here's how they could actually happen.

One day, you might not need to carry that physical passport around, either.

Photo: CommonPass

There will come a time, hopefully in the near future, when you'll feel comfortable getting on a plane again. You might even stop at the lounge at the airport, head to the regional office when you land and maybe even see a concert that evening. This seemingly distant reality will depend upon vaccine rollouts continuing on schedule, an open-sourced digital verification system and, amazingly, the blockchain.

Several countries around the world have begun to prepare for what comes after vaccinations. Swaths of the population will be vaccinated before others, but that hasn't stopped industries decimated by the pandemic from pioneering ways to get some people back to work and play. One of the most promising efforts is the idea of a "vaccine passport," which would allow individuals to show proof that they've been vaccinated against COVID-19 in a way that could be verified by businesses to allow them to travel, work or relax in public without a great fear of spreading the virus.

Keep Reading Show less
Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.


A Bloomberg-backed ‘tech co’ is building campaign tools for the left and right

The stealthy firm, which has been buying political tech firms for more than a year, is backed by Emma Bloomberg's philanthropic group.

The new firm, called Tech co., is backed by Michael Bloomberg's daughter, Emma Bloomberg.

Image: Clayton Cardinalli

A new company backed by Michael Bloomberg's daughter Emma Bloomberg has been quietly buying political tech firms and going on a hiring spree, as it seeks to create a digital organizing platform that operates "outside of a traditional 'Red/Blue' partisan paradigm."

Neither the existence of the firm, called simply Tech co. for now, nor its high-profile funder have been previously reported, though it's been up and running for at least a year. But a spate of recent job listings seeking data scientists, behavioral scientists and engineers have circulated through the insular political tech whisper mill, sparking curiosity as the startup prepares to emerge from stealth mode this spring.

Keep Reading Show less
Issie Lapowsky
Issie Lapowsky (@issielapowsky) is a senior reporter at Protocol, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University’s Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing. Email Issie.
Latest Stories