Artificial Intelligence Journey 2021 Conference

Moscow 10 November 2021
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As delivered by Bjørn Berge, Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe



Ladies and gentlemen,


It is a great pleasure to be in Moscow and to be invited to speak about an issue of pressing importance to individuals, civil society, businesses and governments throughout the world.

Artificial Intelligence is already inseparable from the lives we live.

Whether we speak about algorithms or blockchains or predictive technology, these are innovations that now shape our everyday experiences.

The jobs that we do, the information that we see, the choices that we make:

Behind all of these, AI is guiding us.

And in doing so, it can be a force for extraordinary good.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is a case in point.

From the design and use of tracing apps to track cases of infection;

To the sharing of scientific data and experience within countries and between them;

To the development of effective vaccines.

Despite all of the lives lost during this public health crisis – each a tragedy in itself – it is worth reflecting on how many more might have died without the technology we already take for granted.

As that technology advances and innovation takes its course, the role of AI will only expand and intensify.

And there is plenty to look forward to.

More routine and uninteresting work that will be done by machines instead of people;

Further improvements that might be achieved in diagnostic and therapeutic outcomes for patients and their safety;

Driverless cars and – who knows, maybe one day aircraft – that might take us, effortlessly, to our chosen destination.

But there are dangers too.

The rise of technology driven decision making scares many people.

And this is not unreasonable.

They worry about a lack of clarity in the development and operation of AI systems.

They feel uncertain about who has legal responsibility for those systems, not least when they operate across national borders.

And they can see for themselves that automated decisions create the danger of bias, with digital technology pre-empting what content we see, from the kind of news we consume to the job adverts that are recommended – or withheld – from our view:

A practice that carries the risk of discriminating against individuals and particular groups in our societies.

This also raises the issue of surveillance.

As we know, every move we make on the internet is recorded, analysed and, very often, sold.

These concerns relate both to ethics and the law and cannot simply be ignored.

It is not that there have been no attempts to address them.

At the national level, governments have launched initiatives including ethical codes.

But AI cannot be regulated effectively by any one government alone.

The web and related technology are something that we share. All of us. They are international by their very nature.

So, if we want effective regulation, that means harmonised rules between countries, effective legal protection, and an oversight mechanism to ensure compliance:

A multilateral solution must be found.

The Council of Europe exists to protect and promote human rights, democracy and the rule of law through common standards agreed by all our 47 member states including, of course, the Russian Federation.

These standards draw from the European Convention on Human Rights which every member state has ratified and that has the force of law across our shared Pan-European legal space.

And it is through this lens that we are looking at the possibilities for addressing the challenges raised by rapidly evolving artificial intelligence.

Not to inhibit it, but to harness its potential for the benefit of us all in Europe – and beyond.

This kind of challenge is not unfamiliar to us.

Previous advances in technology have also raised issues that fall within our remit and which we have addressed, successfully.

The increased volume and flow of personal data across frontiers, undergoing automatic processing, led to our Data Protection Convention:

The first legally binding international instrument in its field, this Convention protects individuals’ privacy, and its states parties include every one of the 47 Council of Europe member countries.

Similarly, the invention and expansion of the internet opened the virtual door to crimes committed online, with the victim and the perpetrator often in different jurisdictions.

Our Budapest Convention on Cybercrime was designed to tackle this and many refer to it as an international gold standard.

Its new Second Additional Protocol aims to further enhance cross-border co-operation and the disclosure of electronic evidence.

So, AI is the latest technological challenge with an ethical dimension for which the Council of Europe has both the mandate and the expertise required for action. And when I say the Council of Europe, that means you, me – all of Europe.

You may ask - what then, should be done?

Let there be no doubt. For us, it is a clear priority – a strategic priority.

And our Ad Hoc Committee on Artificial Intelligence, with experts from all our member States, is taking a leading role.

Currently, it is examining the potential elements of a legal framework for the development, design and application of AI based on our human rights, democracy and rule of law standards.

And we are working to ensure that the recommendations it makes are focussed, informed and realistic. That’s why we need to listen to you, the leading companies and actors, that work on these issues every day.

Something else that I want to highlight, is the following:

Last May, at our Hamburg Ministerial Session, European foreign ministers invited us to continue that work and to look at the range of potential outcomes for taking it forward.

In particular, they asked us to focus on the possibility of a two-pronged approach.

The first element is a legally-binding, transversal instrument, including general common principles that cut across disciplines.

Negotiations on this should start next spring.

And the second element is the development, in parallel, of additional binding or non-binding instruments that are designed to tackle the issues raised by AI in specific sectors.

This is already happening.

For example, we have already undertaken work on the legal implications of driverless, or autonomous vehicles –

Among other things, this addresses the difficult question of who should take responsibility for technical failures, including crashes.

In a completely different area – and with regard to the administration of justice, CEPEJ, our European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice, has drawn up a European Ethical Charter on the use of Artificial Intelligence in Judicial Systems.

It strongly advocates respect for fundamental rights, non-discrimination, and data quality and security in the design and use of AI-based tools.

What is clear today is that moving forward, we will continue to work on the basis of strong evidence and an inclusive consultation process.

This will be done in co-operation with other international and supranational partners.

It is an approach endorsed by our member states in Hamburg as a means to ensure a global perspective.

And as I already stated, we will continue to engage with digital companies, civil society, and academia.

In this context I would like to welcome the fact that today, Sberbank is joining the co-operation framework we launched four years ago, between the Council of Europe and internet and digital companies and their representatives’ associations.

This is an important decision and we very much look forward to our co-operation.


Ladies and gentlemen,

Like all the technological advances of the past, Artificial Intelligence has the potential to transform the ways in which we live and work for the better.

But history teaches us that it is right, necessary – and possible – to regulate that technology so that we can prevent and mitigate its harms.

As an international organisation safeguarding the fundamental rights and freedoms of 840 million people, it is our role and mandate to take a lead in this area.

We are of course mindful of the impact that it may have on businesses, technology companies and individuals but we are determined that the rules should have their input and work to the benefit of all of us.

It is only if we co-operate and work together we will be successful.


Thank you for your attention.