Transatlantic Alliance
Becoming Leaders in Artificial Intelligence: Germany and Canada Push for Ethical AI

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As artificial intelligence technology grows, Germany and Canada attempt to develop their own research in the field and promote ethical standards through international collaboration and cooperation.

By Nina Mondré Schweppe

When Germany pledged 3 Billion euro between 2018 and 2025 to stake its claim in the race to become a world leader in Artificial Intelligence with an emphasis on ethics, the world barely blinked. Successfully doing so would secure Germany’s place at the top, displacing China and the US who have each invested billions of their own currencies to gain supreme control of AI, for better or worse. However, the importance of ethical standards for AI is also a question of culture. For example, German policy has cultivated a value for personal privacy and data protection that is stricter than North America’s. Canadians use Wi-Fi at cafes, choosing to ignore that the connection may not be secure and their data is at risk. Where Germans are more likely to be more cautious with exposure to algorithms that may affect their data and privacy, Germany’s American counterparts are a little more trusting and possibly also more susceptible to a lawless AI ecosystem. As a precaution, Canada and Germany weave ethics into their public services and seek to forge ethical standards for AI and prevent a scenario in which AI is incompatible with humanity.
In comparison to their counterparts, Germany and Canada have some catching up to do where the development of AI technology is concerned. As a first step to remedy this, Germany’s Federal Minister of Transport and Digital Infrastructure presented a report by the Ethics Commission on Automated Driving in 2017, saying: “In the era of the digital revolution and self-learning systems, human-machine interaction raises new ethical questions… [The Ethics Commission has] developed the first guidelines in the world for automated driving. We are now going to implement these guidelines – and in doing so we will remain at the forefront of Mobility 4.0 worldwide.”

Mural © © Pavel Nekoranec Mural © Pavel Nekoranec
The Ethics Commission was definitive in developing a worldwide ethical standard. Further still, Germany created a coalition for the development of an ethical AI by establishing the German Canadian Concourse (GCC) in 2012. Its mission to “build synapses of Transatlantic AI Cooperation,” reiterated Germany’s intention to collaborate with other countries, especially Canada, to create and retain the power to drive an ethical AI forward. What sets German Canadian collaboration apart from China and the US is that neither China nor the US has signaled intent to create an ethics for AI.
This year’s GCC focus contemplates the “AI landscape in Germany and Canada” as well as sets the basis for the “Certification of AI: Standards for Collaboration in Intelligent Mobility.” The creation of standards and certifications for a safer ecosystem in developing autonomous vehicles, cybersecurity, by default designs a set of ethics that becomes an “enabler for economic exploitation of AI solution and transatlantic cooperation”. The GCC held a symposium that included industry leaders, researchers and legal teams in Montreal in February 2019 with a second part in Berlin in November 2019. Canada is employing its federal and municipal governments to connect with universities and industry partners. Canada’s global charitable organization, CIFAR has set up an AI Futures Policy in major centers across the country. Montreal is a powerhouse in ethics and AI, with the Montreal AI Ethics Institute (MAIEI), which recruits individuals from around the world for a one-year program on the impact of artificial intelligence in society. Both Canada and Germany recognize the benefits of international collaboration.
What sparks Germany’s interest in Canada’s AI? Perhaps its the proximity to the US along with Canada’s efforts to become a world destination for AI and innovation, given that Canada’s Policy Options look beyond the economic advantages of AI, citing Canada’s initiative “to identify the social costs and benefits associated with developments in AI.” “AI should ultimately promote the wellbeing of all sentient creatures,” adds Université de Montréal’s Montreal Declaration on Responsible AI. From its humble transatlantic beginnings, it’s clear that Germany and Canada’s interest in AI and ethics is gathering momentum.
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On the other hand, Europe has a continental edge over Asia and the Americas. The European Economic and Social Committee spearheaded a code of ethics to cover the development and use of AI, and to make sure “AI systems remain compatible with the principles of human dignity, integrity, freedom and cultural and gender diversity, as well as with fundamental human rights.” Canada and Germany’s devotion to an ethical standard of AI forges an alliance to increase the availability of information and sets a precedent for an international willingness to collaborate. Thus marks an expansion in the capabilities of AI within an ethical ecosystem. A uniquely German-Canadian benchmark of this undertaking is healthcare. This March, at the Canadian Embassy in Berlin, a conference on AI in Healthcare – a German-Canadian Perspective applied research and industry knowledge to create a more effective standard. The outcomes involve longer-term developments that point towards the vast potential of a German-Canadian collaboration in ethical AI.
To consider Germany and America’s rival in the race for control of AI, earlier this year the Economist reported that China’s investment in technology had increased tenfold between 2000 and 2016. From 1957 to the 1990s, China’s primary battle for technological superiority was against the US. However, China held its lead, especially in the realm of its artificial intelligence. Then on March 7, 2019, the Economist reported that venture capitalists, once eager to invest in China’s technology, have placed its prosperous future in a stranglehold. “More money was raised for venture-capital funds in China in the first half of 2018 than in America, the first time that had ever happened: $56bn compared with $42bn, according to Preqin, a data provider.” Meanwhile, US immigration reform is effectively shrinking the talent pool in its technology sector. The Information Technology Industry Council makes the point that, “Immigration policy is really innovation policy. The U.S. economy has benefited enormously from the contributions made by immigrants who came to this country.” This no doubt could open doors for countries like Germany and Canada, provided they maintain well-developed immigration policies. Both have already benefitted from the US’s loss and teamed up to create a superpower not only in AI development but arguably also with a view to establish an international ethical standard of AI. Ultimately, a system established by the collaborative initiatives between Germany and Canada builds a strong case for coalition in the development of AI. The added infrastructure of an overarching ethics would inaugurate a transatlantic framework for the responsible and benevolent application of technology and would benefit all humanity, even populations without access to internet or the latest technologies.