To boost the free flow of non-personal data in the Digital Single Market, the European Commission on April 25 presented a set of measures to increase the availability of data in the EU. It builds on the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, which will enter into application on May 25.

“The Digital Single Market is rapidly taking shape; but without data, we will not make the most of artificial intelligence, high-performance computing and other technological advances,” said Commission Vice-President for the Digital Single Market Andrus Ansip. “These technologies can help us to improve healthcare and education, transport networks and make energy savings: this is what the smart use of data is all about.”

According to a Commission press release, the value of the European data economy was €300bn in 2016. If the right legislative and policy measures are put in place, this value could grow to up to €739bn by 2020. This is 4% of the EU’s GDP.

According to Ansip, the Commission’s proposal will free up more public sector data for re-use, including for commercial purposes, driving down the cost of access to data and helping to create a common data space in the EU that will stimulate growth.

“With today’s Communication we are pursuing an ambitious plan, the Digital Single Market Strategy, to make sure that we are in the best possible position to help our businesses, provide top-class research, and protect EU citizens,” added Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society Mariya Gabriel. “Citizens and businesses will have access to better products and services as more and more data become available for data-driven innovation.”

In turn, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Vytenis Andriukaitis noted that the proposals make use of the full potential of digital technologies to improve healthcare and medical research.

“This will lead to easier access to health data, which will lead to better disease prevention and patient-centred care, rapid responses to pandemic threats, and improved treatments,” he said.

Now it is up to the European Parliament and the Council to adopt the Commission’s proposal for revised rules on Public Sector Information. The Commission will also set up a high-level round-table to discuss private sector data sharing in the business-to-government context during the second half of 2018 and the first half of 2019.

In related news, The Guardian noted that the Commission has distanced itself from proposals to give the most advanced robots the legal status of personhood.

“I don’t think it will happen,” Ansip told journalists. “I don’t think my vacuum cleaner has to get human rights.”

Last year a committee of MEPs argued that robots should have a form of electronic personhood, raising the idea of machines being sued in law courts. The proposals were made under the parliament’s own-initiative powers, meaning they had no implications for EU law.

The commission said it would appoint a committee to draw up ethical guidelines on the use of artificial intelligence. The group of experts from business, civil society and academia will be convened by July to consider AI and its impact on society, including work, social inclusion and privacy.

Commission officials stressed they wanted a human-centric approach to AI policy. “Robots will never become humans,” said Elżbieta Bieńkowska, the European commissioner for industry.

The reaction from the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) in the European Parliament was not so positive. Though they welcomed the Commission’s proposals, they were disappointed by the ambition shown.

“The plan released today by the Commission is a step in the right direction, but is not enough,” said S&D Group Vice-President responsible for digital affairs, Josef Weidenholzer.

“Despite some positive, the European Commission proposals did not go far enough in various aspects,” added S&D MEP and author of the Parliament’s report on artificial intelligence, Mady Delvaux. “On liability, the Commission has repeated its nice words but not come forward with any clear legislative proposal. If we want to lead the world in this area, we need a clear framework in which to operate. This is also the same for the social effects of the rise of AI, we wanted more from the Commission in terms of helping those left behind, not just more studies and expert panels.”