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07 August 2020
Development of EU regulatory framework
AI strategy and relevant legislation
University centres for AI research and development
'Artificial intelligence' is no longer an abstract term. It is increasingly perceived as a technology which enhances business processes and can no longer be ignored in terms of creating an adequately regulated environment for research and development. A full regulatory framework which supports the development of AI technologies while considering the ethical aspects of their application has yet to be established in Croatia or throughout the European Union. Meanwhile, the technological development of AI is rapidly progressing in academic circles and increasing its market presence.
In recent years, the European Union has prioritised the development of AI to become more competitive in the field. More precisely, the ambition is for the European Union to become the world-leading region for developing and deploying cutting-edge, ethical and secure AI, promoting a human-centric approach in the global context. As an EU member state, Croatia follows all of the relevant initiatives and guidelines and takes part in EU-funded projects while legislation is in preparation.
The process of creating an EU-wide regulatory framework started with the Declaration of Cooperation on Artificial Intelligence, which was signed by 29 countries on 10 April 2018 and subsequently by Croatia in July 2018. By signing the declaration, EU member states expressed their willingness to cooperate on a comprehensive and integrated EU approach to AI.
In December 2020 the European Union launched the Coordinated Plan on Artificial Intelligence "Made in Europe", which proposes some 70 joint actions for closer and more efficient cooperation between EU member states and the European Commission in key areas. The plan also encourages EU member states to adopt national AI strategies by mid-2019, building on the work done at the EU level. The European Union recommended that each member state decide on the form, content and management of their national plan for AI development independently.
As a signatory of the Declaration of Cooperation on Artificial Intelligence and under the Coordinated Plan on Artificial Intelligence "Made in Europe", Croatia was encouraged to develop a national AI development strategy. A working group was appointed for the task at the Ministry of Economy, Entrepreneurship and Crafts in April 2019; however, the strategy has still not been presented. The strategy's content is also still unknown, but is expected to align with the common goals set by the European Union. Ministry officials have announced that the Croatian strategy should soon be made available for public discussion.
At present, the regulation of the AI sector in Croatia is practically non-existent, as is the case in many other EU member states. This might be viewed as troublesome, as the technology is advancing rapidly without a specific legal control system to provide guidance. However, the issues arising from the use of AI are complex and difficult to foresee, which makes the legislative process time consuming and demanding.
Although progress is moderate at the state-institutional level in Croatia, initiatives are starting to appear in practice and there are many examples of successful commercial use of AI technologies.
As of February 2020, Croatia has a strong technological association promoting the use and benefits of AI. The Croatian AI Association (CroAI) is a group of approximately 30 tech companies (including Microsoft, IBM, Oracle and A1) involved in the development of solutions based on AI technology. The association's ambitious goal is to brand Croatia as a leading European destination for the development of human-centric AI. The human-centric approach places new technology in the service of people and society (eg, through smart tools and digital assistants).
Immediately after its foundation, CroAI published its guidelines for encouraging the development of AI in the European Union as a review of the European Commission's White Paper on Artificial Intelligence, which was open for public discussion between February 2020 and June 2020. The white paper presented an outline of future EU legislation in the field of AI. CroAI offered its view on the matter by proposing the following guidelines for the development of a competitive AI industry in the European Union:
Croatia recently established two research centres which develop and implement AI technologies. The Artificial Intelligence Centre was founded in 2019 at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computing of the University of Zagreb, formally focusing its scientists' efforts on the AI field, although they have been actively working in this area for many years by focusing on new findings in test data, robotics and computer vision. The centre is now the largest AI research facility in Croatia, with more than 100 researchers from 18 research laboratories.
The Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Cybernetic Security was opened at the University of Rijeka in January 2020. The idea for the centre came from two Rijeka-based scientists who are part of the working group for the development of the Croatian AI strategy with the Ministry of Economy. The centre is unique in the entire region because it embraces an interdisciplinary approach attracting scientists and experts from different backgrounds in order to create a common environment for research and projects, while also making connections with commercial entities such as successful IT companies.
The Ruđer Bošković Institute, Croatia's leading scientific institute for the natural and biomedical sciences, has a large number of active projects already using AI in algorithm development, image processing and Big Data. Some of the institute's projects are financed through the EU programme Horizon 2020.
Horizon 2020 is the largest EU programme for research and innovation, offering €80 billion in funding between 2014 and 2020. Thus far, 454 grant agreements have been signed with Croatian participants and 628 organisations have been involved in Horizon 2020 projects. The projects received a total of €106.4 million of EU funding for different types of innovation relating to the food industry, agriculture, forestry, transport, climate and the environment.
A current example of AI application in widespread use in Croatia is Andrija – the digital assistant which helps people to diagnose and manage suspected COVID-19 infections. The application, which is activated through the WhatsApp platform, was developed pro bono by member companies of the CroAI association in cooperation with epidemiologists. The assistant is named after Andrija Štampar, a distinguished Croatian doctor and scholar in the field of social medicine. It can process tens of thousands of requests daily and is completely anonymous and voluntary.
For further information on this topic please contact Ivana Manovelo at Maćešić & Partners by telephone (+385 51 215 010) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org). The Maćešić & Partners website can be accessed at www.macesic.hr.
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