An infrastructural framework to achieve a European artificial intelligence
Charlotte STIX* 1
A mega-project for artificial intelligence (AI) in Europe? An immediately implementable
strategy for the European Union (EU) could mix institutionalised coordination with a more
decentralised model than a CERN-type institution would allow for.
A combination of both approaches could go as follows: a single headquarters embedded into a
distributed network of affiliated AI laboratories. Tractable and within reach using existing
funding and organisational structures, such as the European Research Council, the Digital
Innovation Hubs and the European Association for AI, this could significantly accelerate the
development from proposal to (mega) reality. As an added benefit, a timely establishment could
put a halt to the EU’s issue of brain drain and support the attraction of new talent, harnessing
the excitement and prestige associated with an ambitious undertaking. A centralised
headquarters (HQ) can enable a focused vision, encourage tighter collaboration and a better
overview of the ecosystem, as well as eventually providing economies of scale for using data,
research engineering, and other supporting infrastructure. In light of the currently fragmented
landscape that needs combatment, the project might initially benefit most if the HQ is focused on
firstname.lastname@example.org | PhD Candidate, Department of Industrial Engineering and Innovation Sciences,
Eindhoven University of Technology, 5600 MB Eindhoven, The Netherlands. | Member, Global Future
Council on Neurotechnologies and Brain Sciences, World Economic Forum. | Thanks to José
Hernández-Orallo and Shahar Avin for comments on earlier drafts. | The article builds on the section on
Ongoing Models for Large-Scale Cooperation in A Survey of the European Union’s AI Ecosystem, Stix,
2019. An earlier version of this article was published in the European AI Newsletter (17/09/2019). The
article is currently undergoing an update to incorporate recent developments.
operations and grant management, talent creation and the support of a common vision among
affiliated labs. In short, creating commonalities in diversity and trust: „United in Diversity“.
A centralised coordination, overview and streamlining effort for projects, funding and research
could minimise researchers’ workload and significantly increase their available time for primary
research projects. The support teams could also act as a direct link between the larger
community, entities and available resources, such as the European Commission, the European
Research Council or the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grants, gathering awareness of opportunities,
relevant developments as well as funding sources.
Which laboratories should become affiliated and how to avoid elitism or exclusion of budding
research centres? To avoid the establishment of unrealistic and counterproductive requirements,
affiliation conditions could primarily be mapped out by the European AI community itself,
possibly through organisations such as EurAI. One option could be to offer different tiers of
affiliation, corresponding to distinct commitments on the part of the affiliated labs and their
fulfillment of necessary requirements.
Depending on agreement, benefits for affiliated labs could be access to a wider talent pool,
operational support and a network of EU-wide technical infrastructure, such as the Digital
Innovation Hub network and Centres of Excellence for AI. The HQ itself might benefit from
geographical proximity to the European High Performance Computing Joint Undertaking,
assuming it may expand into research later on, or from building alongside existing mega-projects
such as CERN in Switzerland, assuming it could copy its success factors.
6 The European Union’s motto.
Increased mobility between labs as well as possible mentorship and training opportunities for
researchers should equally be considered when setting up the project and affiliation agreements.
It will be important to ensure the equal success across all EU Member States, so specific points
such as movement for researchers between labs could be accompanied with targeted EU policies
and regulations tackling potential inequalities.
With a tide of researchers and corresponding organisations endorsing the recent “trustworthy AI”
course of the European Union, along Commission president Von der Leyen’s ambition for a
European Green Deal (potentially inciting large scale “AI for Good projects”) the current
strategic direction of the EU could become a decent trump card of the European AI research
An ambitious far-reaching project accompanied by a strong drive towards the development of
ethical and human-centric AI could harness this movement, encourage researchers to migrate to
the EU and become a main competitive advantage. As such, a timely and focussed development
of a megaproject such as the one outlined above, making best use of the resources already at
hand, could position the EU as a serious competitor when it comes to AI research and