My first reading of the yet to be published EU Regulation on the European Approach for Artificial Intelligence, based on a leaked version, I find pretty good. A logical approach, laid out in the 92 recitals preceding the articles, based on risk assessment, where erosion of human and citizen rights or risk to key infrastructure and services and product safety is deemed high risk by definition. High risk means more strict conditions, following some of the building blocks of the GDPR, also when it comes to governance and penalties. Those conditions are tied to being allowed to put a product on the market, and are tied to how they perform in practice (not just how they’re intended). I find that an elegant combination, risk assessment based on citizen rights and critical systems, and connected to well-worn mechanisms of market access and market monitoring. It places those conditions on both producers and users, as well as other parties involved along the supply chain. The EU approach to data and AI align well this way it seems, and express the European geopolitical proposition concerning data and AI, centered on civic rights, into codified law. That codification, like the GDPR, is how the EU exports its norms to elsewhere.
The text should be published soon by the EC, and I’ll try a write-up in more detail then.
Facebook has warned that it may pull out of Europe if the Irish data protection commissioner enforces a ban on sharing data with the US, after a landmark ruling by the European court of justice found in July that there were insufficient safeguards against snooping by US intelligence agencies.
Never issue a threat you’re not really willing to follow up on… FB says it might stop servicing EU citizens because it isn’t allowed to transfer their data to US servers over data protection concerns. To me it would seem good news if the FB data-kraken would withdraw its tentacles. It is also an open admission that they can’t provide their service if it is not tied to adtech and the rage-fed algorithmic timeline built on detailed data collection. Call it, I’d say.
...our mayor welcoming us to the large, colorful, slightly shady Brussels family (yes, shady, since our cultural heroes are people like these – and proud of it!).
Way to go, my fellow Belgians. No, this country is not perfect. It can be quite dysfunctional. But these things are fixable. What matters most to me, is the ironic, tender humanity you so often manage to infuse in life here. If this is Belgium, I am happy to have chosen to make my home here, and proud to be one of you.
Welcome home, again, Alberto. What a nice write-up. When my (then Honduran) brother in law received his Dutch nationality, we as family attended a similar session with him in his hometown Utrecht. Although it was definitely more formal (with an oath and all that jazz), it was also very festive and relaxed and not just a routine.
Of course it does mean that as a Dutchman I now get to make Belgium jokes about you. But luckily that goes both ways, you get to tell Dutch jokes about me. Brussels is one of those places that prove every time I visit that Europe works.
Last weekend it was 30 years ago the Wall/iron curtain fell. I sat in front of the tv deep into the night watching German live tv. Having visited Eastern Germany just two years before it, I cried watching. I felt a strong urge to go there, but it wasn’t my place I also felt, not my personal history being made and I didn’t want to be a spectator in their midst. It was my neighbour’s, Rainer’s, history, who fled Eastern Germany with his parents as the iron curtain came up in ’61, while his sister stayed as she was freshly in love. Their lives separated for almost 3 decades, punctuated by his visits as often as he was allowed in. Their parents never being allowed back in. I remember in ’87 getting into an argument with an East-Berlin civil servant who told us the wall was there as a ‘Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart’ against the/us fascists in the West. It was so much cognitive dissonance for me that the Wall was supposedly there to keep me out, but yet here I was let in, just not them let out. A prison with the key on the inside. He couldn’t acknowledge my comment obviously, which I couldn’t in turn accept as a teenager. Now, as I’ve worked in various places and settings, where diplomacy is the only way forward, allowing others to save face, and room to manoeuvre to get somewhere, I know why there was no way at all I would have ‘won’ being right that day in East-Berlin city hall. Yet I was, empathy against bureaucracy is/should always be right.
Last weekend it was also 81 years ago that Nazis roamed the streets in Germany trashing Jewish owned businesses, homes and synagogues, and the murder of hundreds and internment in concentration camps of some thirty thousand German citizens of Jewish faith, Kristallnacht.
Oddly enough it is in the regions most affected by the separation of the Wall, Thuringia and Saxony, that the fascist echoes ring the loudest in Germany these days, where AfD. ‘alternative for Germany’ finds an electoral feeding ground. Or maybe it is not surprising, as societal complexity may make you yearn for the (imagined) simplicity of something that never was, exchange the simplicity of one authoritarian construct for another, or at least to blame someone, anyone, some mythical Other, for the baffling complexity around us.
All three of these things are important and current to my own life in different ways. As is the next.
Today I was in Brussels, a very complicated city in an equally complicated country in its own right. Whatever you can say about this place, and here too nationalist (or rather regionalist) sentiments boil, there is beauty in the elegance of dealing with otherness here. Where you are being spoken to in French or Dutch, and answer in a mixture of French, Dutch and English, or vice versa, and it’s all fine. Where the hotel barman tonight has a distinctive Flemish/Dutch name, Gert, yet is Walloon, and we both shrug and say, yeah Europe is complicated, and we appreciate each other’s efforts to be understood and embrace how our lands have been the crossroads of so many different things. It’s fitting that the EU has its institutions in both Brussels and Luxembourg, the two linguistically most confused/mixed cities in Europe.
E and I often remark to each other when we encounter situations like me and the barman above how ‘Europe works’. Last time I was here in Brussels, over dinner I sat next to a family of 4 who amongst themselves effortlessly conversed in Italian, Dutch and German, while fluently ordering in French. I texted to E that very phrase, “Europe works”, not for the first time. It’s our regular shorthand for what the EU has achieved, starting from co-governing the coal and steel works of 6 nations in 1951 so that none of us could build up a war machine without the others being able to stop it, to what the EU is now and how it plays out practically in the lives of us, our networks and the people we encounter across the continent. I intimately know the divisions national borders created within my own family, as well as the deep pain on all sides and resentment of World War II. Equally, I deeply know in my bones what we’ve all gained when freedom of movement kicked in 27 years ago (it’s a tangible sensation every time I personally or professionally do something where there before was a fence), as well as how it makes my professional life possible. Yet across the EU, which from my travels around the world I know to be a place of such enormous abundance (which is not a synonym for perfection nor utopia), resentment against those gains has built. While I recognise the things that feed into that resentment, all too often it smacks of Kristallnacht. It reeks. German rock-band BAP, singing in the Cologne dialect which in itself is a testament to the age-old connection between my own lands of origin and Germany (I can use may own Dutch dialect deep into Germany without issue of being understood, and Cologne’s dialect is akin to my own), sketches out the political pantomime of the copy-cat fascists perfectly. Their 1982 song is just as pertinent in 2019.
Doing this online is a neighbouring right in the new EU Copyright Directive. Photo by Alper, license CC BY
A move that surprises absolutely no one: Google won’t pay French publishers for snippets. France is the first EU country to transcribe the new EU Copyright Directive into law. This directive contains a new neighbouring right that says if you link to something with a snippet of that link’s content (e.g. a news link, with the first paragraph of the news item), you need to seek permission to do so, and that permission may come with a charge. This in the run-up to the directive was dubbed the ‘link tax’, although that falsely suggests it concerns any type of hyperlinking.
Google, not wanting to pay publishers for the right to use snippets with their links, will stop using snippets with those links.
Photo by Nicolas Alejandro, license CC BY
Ironically the link at the top is to a publisher, Axel Springer, that lobbied intensively for the EU Copyright Directive to contain this neighbouring right. Axel Springer is also why we knew with certainty up front this part of the Copyright Directive would fail. Years ago (2013) Germany, after lobbying by the same Axel Springer publishing house, created this same neighbouring right in their copyright law. Google refused to buy a license and stopped using snippets. Axel Springer saw its traffic from search results drop by 40%, others by 80%. They soon caved and provided Google with a free of charge license, to recoup some of the traffic to their sites.
Photo by CiaoHo, license CC BY
This element of the law failed in Germany, it failed in Spain in 2015 as well. Axel Springer far from being discouraged however touted this as proof that Google needed to be regulated, and continued lobbying for the same provision to be included in the EU Copyright Directive. With success, despite everyone else explaining how it wouldn’t work there either. It really comes at no surprise therefore that now the Copyright Directive will come into force in French law, it has the exact same effect. Wait for French publishers to not exercise their new neighbouring rights in 3, 2, 1…
Photo by The JH Photography, license CC BY
News publishers have problems, I agree. Extorting anyone linking to them is no way to save their business model though (dropping toxic adtech however might actually help). It will simply mean less effective links to them, resulting in less traffic, in turn resulting in even less advert revenue for them (a loss exceeding any revenue they might hope to get from link snippet licenses). This does not demonstrate the monopoly of Google (though I don’t deny its real dominance), it demonstrates that you can’t have cake and eat it (determining how others link to you and get paid for it, but keep all your traffic as is), and it doesn’t change that news as a format is toast.
Today, the EU acts like an unpaid research and development department for Silicon Valley. We fund startups, which, if they’re successful, get sold to companies in Silicon Valley. If they fail, the European taxpayer foots the bill. .... The EC must stop funding startups and invest in stayups instead. Invest €5M in ten stayups in each area where we want ethical alternatives. Unlike a startup, when stayups are successful, they don’t exit. They can’t get bought by Google or Facebook. They remain sustainable European not-for-profits working to deliver technology as a social good.
This is very interesting reasoning. Especially because I end up in a lot of conversations on the flip side of this: government client saying they’d ‘like to use alternatives to big tech’ but ‘can’t’ because none are visible to them. Also my sense of public procurement procedures is that they are currently incapable of detecting such options and lifting them to the front.
Looking at this way of investing, also means public institutions will more easily stay out of conflicts with e.g. market regulations.