Brussels recommends monitoring the risks of artificial intelligence and technology against rivals like China | International

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Brussels wants to move quickly to discover and cover its possible technological vulnerabilities in a world with increasing geostrategic tensions, paying special attention to Chinese strength in the sector. Just over three months after presenting the European economic security strategy ―which seeks to reduce dependencies on countries like China without losing strength in the global race, or falling into protectionism―, the European Commission unveiled this Tuesday its first list of “critical technological areas.” These include semiconductors and artificial intelligence (AI), which Brussels recommends subjecting to a “risk assessment” together with the Member States to subsequently decide whether “proportionate” measures are required to protect against rivals or to prevent fall into the wrong hands.

This first list of critical technological areas amounts to ten, but only four of them – those related to semiconductors, AI, quantum and biotechnologies – will be subjected to a joint risk assessment, which will last until the end of the year, with experts from Member States and “inputs” from the private sector. What is sought, community sources point out, is “to identify risks in each area, both the strengths to preserve and the vulnerabilities that must be resolved.”

“These technologies are now at the center of geopolitical competition and the EU wants to be a player, not just on a playing field. And to be a player, we need a united European position, based on a common assessment of risks,” explained the vice president of the Commission responsible for Securities and Transparency, Vera Jourova, when presenting the recommendation at a press conference from Strasbourg.

The criteria to be part of this first list are that they are technologies that have “potential to cause significant increases in efficiency and/or radical changes”; that there is a risk of “military and civil fusion”, that is, that they serve both domains, and that they can even “undermine peace and security.” Another reason for inclusion is the risk that this technology could be used to violate human rights, including the restriction of fundamental freedoms.

Brussels is very careful when it comes to identifying sources of potential risks: the name of China does not appear at any time in its documentation, although it has previously been identified as a source of risks. “This is not against anyone, it is not against any country or continent, we do it for ourselves, for Europe,” said the Commissioner for the Internal Market, Thierry Breton. What Europe is doing with this step is “adapting to new geopolitical realities, ending an era of naivety and acting as a real geopolitical power,” he added.

Community sources recall that there are also potential conflicts with countries like Taiwan regarding semiconductors, hence the Brussels recommendation is “agnostic” as far as States are concerned. In any case, the strategy is part of the line set by the president of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, who advocates - especially vis-à-vis China - the path of derisking (risk reduction) instead of decoupling or total disconnection from a rival country and from practices often questioned, but still essential in many areas. For this reason, the evaluations, the experts emphasize, “will not be country-specific,” although they recognize that “geopolitical factors will be taken into account when evaluating how risky certain dependencies or vulnerabilities are.”

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It is not about acting immediately, the sources point out, but only in the spring of next year, and based on the information collected until then, it will be decided "if and when" more risk assessments should be carried out on other categories and if it is appropriate to take action. “Only the result of a detailed collective assessment of the level and nature of the risks can serve as a basis for a future discussion on the need for some precise and proportionate measure to promote, associate or protect any of these technological areas,” summarizes the Commission. .

“This list is not a list of technologies on which we are going to impose restrictions or export control,” the sources insist. “We are not prejudging any measures we could take, we are just saying that these technologies, due to the criteria we use, have a certain importance when assessing economic security and that we have to analyze them more in depth to evaluate the risk and what it is. the best way to deal with it. And that is not necessarily through protectionist measures. It can also be by promoting more investments in these technologies or through alliances to reduce dependencies,” they point out.

This is, Breton emphasized, about reinforcing European resilience: “We need to continually monitor our critical technologies, assess our risk of exposure and, if necessary, take measures to preserve our strategic and security interests.”

All the technologies included in the initial list are part of the “security and technological leaks” section, one of the four risk categories—and the “most sensitive” of all, according to Jourova, who traveled to Beijing in September—identified in June. by the Commission to narrow down the search for possible vulnerabilities. The rest of the risk sections are supply chains, critical infrastructure and economic coercion.

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