European companies must adopt artificial intelligence as a genuine part of their business models if they want to be successful in the future. How can they achieve this?

International AI Forum 2018 panellists Loubna Bouarfa, Robert Gentz, Jim Hagemann Snabe and Jyrki Katainen explored the question through examples from different companies and industries. According to the panellists, this is a question of different things coming together: we need new business ideas but also more collaboration between businesses and improved access to data.

The discussion was led by European Political Strategy Centre Director Ann Mettler, who brought up the fact that at the moment, the most successful company in the area of AI is a Chinese start-up. According to her, discussions about AI in Europe should focus not only on start-ups but also on the adoption and diffusion of AI in traditional industries.

Panellists of the discussion “Tech unicorns born in Europe”.

Using artificial intelligence to solve problems

Robert Gentz, cofounder and Co-CEO of Zalando, explained that the company’s operations have been guided by measurable data right from the very beginning. Artificial intelligence is currently at the core of the company’s business.

“Artificial intelligence enables us to give customers what they need. For companies, the use of AI is certainly a financial question, but there are other even more important aspects. One thing we need is new skills,” Gentz said.

Jyrki Katainen, Robert Gentz and Ann Mettler.

According to Jim Hagemann Snabe, the strength of Europe lies in business-to-business operations rather than solutions aimed at consumers. Hagemann Snabe has a great deal of experience with different kinds of companies, as he is Chairman of the Board of A.P. Moller-Maersk, Vice-Chairman of the Board of Allianz and a member of the Board of the World Economic Forum.

“With the exception of e-commerce, most of the business-to-consumer scenarios using AI are entertainment. They don’t solve problems. In Europe, we already have global, leading companies solving real problems in the healthcare industry, transport and energy,” Hagemann emphasised.

Access to data helps companies develop

The panellists stressed the importance of better access to data and closer collaboration between companies. More shared platforms and increased cooperation between small and large companies will enable data to be used more broadly and lead to the emergence of new innovations.

Loubna Bouarfa, cofounder and CEO of data analytics company OKRA Technologies, used the healthcare industry as an example. Her motivation as an entrepreneur was the opportunity to use artificial intelligence to develop healthcare.

“Artificial intelligence is everywhere. We have to stop talking about artificial intelligence as a possibility and start talking about how it can change the way we work. The three main things that will take us forward are open data, more experimentation and pilots and increased collaboration between companies,” Bouarfa stated.

Vice-President of the European Commission Jyrki Katainen also viewed healthcare as a major opportunity for Europe.

“Taking into account the size of health and social care in our GDP, it might be beneficial for us when developing the use of AI in Europe. Another advantage for us is transport and energy efficiency, as our continent is committed to the Paris Climate Agreement,” Katainen said.

Loubna Bouarfa and Jyrki Katainen.

Company networks as a strength for Europe

Hagemann Snabe drew attention to the fact that a great deal of power and turnover lies with a few major tech giants. At the same time, they are employing fewer and fewer people and jobs are being lost. In his view, Europe’s strength may lie in networks in which small and large companies work together towards a common goal.

“What if Europe could be the place where artificial intelligence creates opportunities for everyone, because don’t destroy what we have, we enhance it,” Jim Hagemann Snabe proposed.

Jim Hagemann Snabe, Loubna Bouarfa and Jyrki Katainen.

The AI Forum 2018 conference was held in Espoo, Finland on 8–9 October 2018. The conference brought together European ministers, business leaders and AI experts to discuss the future of AI in Europe. The AI Forum 2018 was hosted by Finland’s Minister of Economic Affairs Mika Lintilä, Vice-President of the European Commission Jyrki Katainen and European Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society Mariya Gabriel. The invitation-only conference had around 250 attendees.

Video of the panel discussion 

Photos of the AI Forum 

Audience at the AI Forum 2018.

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