Vanessa Cann – the risk of lagging behind on AI

Vanessa Cann is executive director at the German AI Association and, among other things, works to ensure that start-ups can develop their full potential.

Progress on the subject of artificial intelligence (AI) is too slow in Germany and Europe, according to Vanessa Cann. The 30-year-old is managing director at the German AI Association, in which more than 400 companies are networked. “AI start-ups from Europe should be able to play at the top of the world,” Cann says. “That’s our aspiration.”

Vanessa Cann actually wanted to get into politics herself: In 2016, she ran for the Green Party in Mannheim for the Baden-Württemberg state parliament. After studying political science, Cann worked in a consulting firm on artificial intelligence, working for technology companies from Silicon Valley on their lobbying positions. “I noticed that politics and companies very much talk past each other when it comes to AI,” Cann says. That’s the intersection she works at today.

Criticism of the AI Act

The EU wants to regulate artificial intelligence in the future with the Artificial Intelligence Act (AI Act for short), and Parliament is currently discussing the draft. The new rules are intended to classify AI technologies into risk categories. Among other things, the draft plans to ban applications such as social scoring and to regulate technologies with increased risk more closely. Vanessa Cann is critical of this because too many start-ups fall into this category: “The definitions are too broad,” she says. A study by the German AI Association found that up to 50 percent of the companies surveyed put their technology in this category, while the Commission only assumes up to 15 percent.

The AI Act would have consequences for start-ups and small businesses in particular: It leads to double regulation and is an additional burden, Cann says. There are already strict regulations for sensitive areas such as medicine or finance. Her suggestion: Instead of new regulation, the EU should rather expand existing industry rules to include AI: “I don’t think there is a need for the AI Act,” Cann emphasizes. “Now we should ensure it provides legal clarity and promotes innovation in Europe.”

Helping small businesses

The AI Act is coming, and the trilogue with the Council and the Commission will begin after the negotiations in Parliament. Vanessa Cann now calls for a guideline to the legal text that explains to companies exactly what they have to do. She draws parallels with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR): When it came into force, many companies were afraid of doing something wrong. Now, she says, it is important that start-ups, in particular, receive clear recommendations so that they do not have to seek expensive legal advice. Otherwise, it would be more difficult for them to develop their technology in Europe.

What’s next for artificial intelligence in the future? “The next big step is generative AI,” Cann reports. This refers to so-called general purpose AI, such as the software behind ChatGPT. Europe urgently needs to develop its own models as well, says the executive director of the German AI Association: “Otherwise, after platforms and cloud computing, this will be the next technology that missed the boat.” Jana Hemmersmeier


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