Back High Level Segment – Inaugural Meeting of the Committee on Artificial Intelligence

Rome 4 April 2022
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As delivered by Bjørn Berge, Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe


Undersecretary for Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation,


Distinguished guests,

Ladies and gentlemen,


Ours is a time of fast-paced technological development.

The ways in which we live, work and interact with one another are not just evolving –

They are changing at breath-taking speed, often far surpassing the expected.

Over recent years, we have seen a wide range of books, films and TV programmes painting a vivid picture of what our societies are becoming –

And what might become of them.

First and foremost among these subjects is the impact of artificial intelligence.

Stories that give us a window to the great things that technology might achieve.

But more often, provide stark and frightening perspectives on the danger of innovation taking over and taking control of our lives.

Fiction is fiction, of course.

But art can sometimes serve as a warning.

And it certainly reflects a degree of public unease.

Many do worry about what AI will mean.

They are concerned about what technology might take from them:

Their jobs, their privacy – their sense of human connection.

And these anxieties are often perfectly reasonable.

They should concern us as well.

Our role is to protect and promote legal standards in human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

Standards that are rooted in the European Convention on Human Rights –

And which apply to every aspect of life on our continent.

Both online and offline.

Technology must evolve in light of both ethics and the law.

Technology must be human-centred, and not answerable only to itself.

The work we are currently doing is a response to this challenge.

Including the vital tasks that the new Committee on Artificial Intelligence – the CAI – will take forward.

But it is important to say that we are not starting from scratch.

We have a strong track record in working to ensure that science and technology advance to the benefit of people’s fundamental rights, rather than undermining them.

Take for example our Convention 108+ on data protection –

Which extends the legal protection of people’s personal data deep into cyberspace.

Or take our Budapest Convention on Cybercrime –

The first and only treaty that takes an international approach to fighting crime –

And whose second additional protocol will be opened for signature in May, helping facilitate the cross-border use of electronic evidence.

Consider also the range of recent recommendations that relate directly to the digital environment –

And that have been adopted by our Committee of Ministers, for use by governments across all of Europe and to the benefit of every citizen.

These focus on –

The roles and responsibilities of internet intermediaries, or internet companies –

On the human rights impacts of algorithmic systems;

And on e-voting and on the rights of the child in the digital environment.

Our Venice Commission has also published Principles for a Rights Compliant Use of Digital Technologies in Electoral Processes.

And we have elaborated a European Ethical Charter on the use of Artificial Intelligence in Judicial Systems and their Environment.

Each of these makes a real impact.

They ensure greater safety and security online, with less discrimination and fewer rights violations.

They ensure justice systems that take account of the individual.

And they ensure the conduct of elections that are free, fair and open.

But the main challenge now is the following:

We need to create a sustainable legal framework for AI that reaches across our continent – and even beyond:

A new framework convention that can be a platform for co-operation and set important standards, just like the Budapest Convention.

And I hope that this is what we can now work towards.

It was the 2019 Helsinki Ministerial Session that gave the green light to look at the potential for setting standards for the interplay between the design, development and use of AI systems on the one hand –

And the human rights, democracy and rule of law on the other.

The Ad hoc Committee on Artificial Intelligence was established to carry that work forward.

And it has fulfilled its task well –

First delivering a feasibility study.

And then the main elements of a possible, legally binding instrument.

From here, the recently created Committee on Artificial Intelligence (CAI) is taking the reins.

And it will hold its first formal meeting today, here in Rome.

So, I take this opportunity to thank the Italian authorities for hosting it –

And for this inaugural meeting –

And for using their Presidency of the Committee of Ministers to provide leadership, impetus and support for this important issue.

This is vital for maintaining the momentum on such a pressing issue.

Now, the CAI will move on to the next stage of its work.

I believe it is in the best of hands.

Separately, I also want to say today that what we continue to see unfold in Ukraine is a tragedy that touches our hearts and troubles our souls.

The loss of lives, the destruction of communities, the flow of refugees – in their millions – seeking safety.

The situation in that country has of course no direct relationship to what you are here to discuss today.

But there is a broader point to be made.

War is never the solution.

Aggressive nationalism is not acceptable. We need to strengthen international co-operation and multilateralism in facing this threat.

 It is always through upholding our values and at the same time by dialogue and negotiations that solutions should be found.

You are here today to uphold that approach.

And in doing so, citizens across the world will benefit.

Thank you for your commitment and thank you for your attention.