The European Commission has announced a series of new measures aimed at providing support for AI startups and small businesses across the EU.
The AI Innovation package builds on a pledge made by Commission president Ursula von der Leyen in September last year that European AI startups would be given access to the bloc's supercomputers to train trustworthy AI models.
It involves amending the EuroHPC Regulation to set up what the Commission is calling ‘AI Factories’ to acquire, upgrade, and operate AI-dedicated supercomputers to handle machine learning and the training of large general purpose AI models.
A 'large number' of public and private users, including startups and SMEs, will be given access to the scheme, the Commission said, and supported in algorithmic development, testing evaluation, and validation of large-scale AI models.
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"You need computing power to develop AI. A lot of it. So we want to give SMEs and startups privileged access to the network of European supercomputers," said Margrethe Vestager, executive vice president of the European Commission.
"We are committed to innovation of AI and innovation with AI. And we will do our best to build a thriving AI ecosystem in Europe."
A dedicated AI Office will be set up to handle the development and coordination of AI policy at European level, officials said, as well as to supervise the implementation and enforcement of the EU AI Act.
Meanwhile, financial support from the Commission will be provided through Horizon Europe and the Digital Europe programme in a package that lawmakers said will offer an additional boost of public and private investment of around €4 billion until 2027.
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There are also plans for education, training, skilling, and reskilling programs, as well as venture capital or equity support. The Commission said it also aims to speed up the development and deployment of Common European Data Spaces for the AI community.
Finally, there's a new GenAI4EU initiative, aimed at supporting the development of novel use cases and emerging applications in robotics, health, biotech, manufacturing, mobility, climate, and virtual worlds.
"Today, we announce the launch of AI Factories, bringing together the ‘raw materials’ for AI: computing power, data, algorithms and talent," said Thierry Breton, commissioner for internal markets.
"They will serve as a one-stop shop for Europe’s AI start-ups, enabling them to develop the most advanced AI models and industrial applications. We are making Europe the best place in the world for trustworthy AI."
The support for EU-based AI startups follows a period of intense criticism of the union’s flagship EU AI Act, which industry stakeholders and critics both warned could have an adverse effect on the broader European AI industry.
Last year, tech policy group DigitalEurope said that the legislation risked “regulating AI startups out of existence”.
The group warned that strict new rules around the development and deployment of AI could prevent companies in the union from competing with global counterparts, particularly in the US.
Additional support for European digital infrastructure
The Commission said it will also establish two European Digital Infrastructure Consortiums (EDICs) as part of the scheme.
The first of these, the Alliance for Language Technologies, is aimed at developing a common European infrastructure in language technologies to address the shortage of European language data for the training of AI solutions.
Meanwhile, CitiVERSE will apply state-of-the-art AI tools to develop Local Digital Twins for Smart Communities, helping cities simulate and optimize processes from traffic management to waste management.
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Emma Woollacott is a freelance journalist writing for publications including the BBC, Private Eye, Forbes, Raconteur and specialist technology titles.