Thinking Digital in an ethical and progressive manner: challenges and solutions

Highlights from the Think Digital Summit 2019 in Brussels

What are the challenges for emerging as a state, as a corporation, as an individual, within this new world of artificial intelligence, high tech or, simply, basic digitalization? Should we discuss values, ethics, profit? How do we balance them? Well, I have entered the building where the Think Digital Summit was taking place asking myself these questions as, perhaps, many of you. Luckily, the panels brought up all of these topics and here are some highlights that you might like to read:

Didier Reynders, the Commissioner-designate for Justice from the European Commission, interestingly discussed that between opportunity and risk we must learn how to manage both; that public authorities must fully understand what artificial intelligence is, how can we all use it, and how to control it. Also, he stated that the first and foremost important step for reaching this outcome is to collect as much information as possible about the tech transformation and understand how to use it in order to create a proper legislative frame for it. So far, so good! But how can all the member states can reach an uniform understanding of the developing technology? Well, Reynders concluded that, for the proper implementation of a uniform European legislation, maybe the European Commission might have to give initial support to some member states in order to ensure this implementation. First things first: we need a general regulatory framework on digitalization and only subsequently we can start legislating on specific areas of tech and AI.

Cristian Silviu Busoi turned the page to discuss in depth the digitalization of health care. Interested? Well, I was definitely one of the participants who wanted to learn more about it.  As a member of the European Parliament, with a vast experience in health care, Busoi correctly stated that the European Institutions must put pressure on the member states in order to implement a more digital approach to the health care system. His co-speaker, Adam Higgins, Senior Director Digital Health Patient and Value solutions at Astra Zeneca, joined the conversation by underlining that one of the biggest challenges within this area of digitalization is the lack of interoperability and the lack of collaboration. The two speakers also concluded that the lack of appropriate funds might also be a problem, since the situation is fragmented: some institutions attract significant funds for their development, but they do not turn to other institutions to help.

Following, Priit Tohver, Advisor for e-services and innovation at the Ministry of Social Affairs from Estonian Government, addressed the struggles of digitalization: there is not enough knowledge on this topic and the governments of all member states should work on it. He interestingly added that the citizens need to see that they will have more benefits throughout digitalization but to reach that, interoperability is a key criteria not only at national level, but also transnationally.

In addition, Mitchell Silva, CEO&Founder of Esperity at EUPATI Belgium suggested that we should focus more on understanding the profiles of the patients and that the delivered solutions through digitalization must have a good impact on them. Furthermore, Susanne Andreae, Head of Health and Healthcare Industry at the World Economic Forum, concluded that artificial intelligence can help diagnosing patients so much better and less challenging that the traditional means, and perhaps most importantly, its focus will not be as much on treatments but on preventing.

Marco Marsella, Head of Unit, DG CNECT at the European Commission correctly stated that data digital treatment solutions should be used more in the future, but in order to do that, we must give proper access to data. Hans Sijbesma from Astra Zeneca concluded the panel discussions by highlighting that patients should be serviced at all levels through the implementation of digitalization. His concern is that many patients are not aware of the sub-diseases they have, and the available digital tests are not always known to them; this is why it is extremely important to reach out the patients and increase their knowledge in the available digital solutions that can help preventing diseases or the usage of expensive, damaging treatments.

Thomas Boué, BSA Policy Director General, Justin Brown, Australian Ambassador to the European Union, NATO, Belgium and Luxembourg, Eva Maydell, MEP, and Christophe Kiener, Head of Unit-DG TRADE at the European Commission mostly discussed within the second panel conference about the today’s need of the society for global convergence. Their conclusions highlighted that we need global convergence not only in trade, but also in data protection. Unfortunately, one of the biggest challenges is that trade negotiations and the WTO system are seen as a proxy for global regulation on data privacy, since we do not have a global institution working for that. They highly recommended as a solution throughout their dialogue that we should not have a fragmentation within the trade system, but to analyze specifically the possible barriers in digital trade and create one unitary system for it.

Laurence Brooks, the founder of the SHERPA project, followed this panel’s discussion by addressing the question of ethics in technology: how can artificial intelligence impact our lives and how much do we know of what the technology is looking at or what is actually doing? Some answers he found by implementing the SHERPA project and analyzing, among others, the impact of AI on human rights.

In the end, the Think Digital Summit was a fruitful reunion of specialized people in tech and AI, and listening to their dialogues and answers made me realize how much it is still out there for us to reach and to learn. Probably some of the most valuable conclusions that I am taking with me from this Summit are those regarding the impact of technology in our lives and in our health care systems. We must combine our values with the development of technology. States must have the ambition to become global players, and people graduating nowadays should be the next generation of innovators and entrepreneur.

Maria-Alexandra Constantinescu

International law student at KU Leuven and currently preparing my master’s thesis on the access to education of the refugees. Maria-Alexandra graduated from the law school in Bucharest, Romania, and subsequently from an international master on European and Global Law in Lisbon, Portugal. She is also a researcher at KU Leuven, creating together with my team the digital access to relevant information on European law, courts, conflicts and law enforcement. For her Master’s thesis I am combining the fundamental human right to education with the possible access offered by this new-digital era that we are living in. She was a YEL delegate to the 2019 Digital Solar & Storage event organized by SolarPower Europe. 

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