Europe’s average digital gap with the world’s leaders is now being compounded by an emerging gap in artificial intelligence.

On many metrics, the European economy and its businesses have been grappling for years to capture the full potential of current and previous generations of digital tools. It is now more than time to double down on Europe’s efforts to succeed in digital transformation, especially when a new set of digital technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), are becoming more technically pervasive.

On average, Europe’s digital gap with the world’s leaders is now being compounded by an emerging gap with the world’s leaders in its development and corporate use of AI technologies. Without faster and more comprehensive engagement in AI, that gap could widen, especially for those European countries with relatively low AI-readiness.

The potential to deliver on AI and catch up against the most AI-ready countries such as the United States and emerging leaders like China are large. If Europe on average develops and diffuses AI according to its current assets and digital position relative to the world, it could add some €2.7 trillion, or 20 percent, to its combined economic output by 2030. If Europe were to catch up with the US AI frontier, a total of €3.6 trillion could be added to collective GDP in this period.

One positive point to note is that Europe may not need to compete head to head but rather in areas where it has an edge (such as in business-to-business [B2B] and advanced robotics) and continue to scale up one of the world’s largest bases of technology developers into a more connected Europe-wide web of AI-based innovation hubs.

In a new discussion paper, Notes from the AI frontier: Tackling Europe’s gap in digital and AI (PDF–623KB), the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) blended the findings of authoritative secondary research sources with three primary independent global surveys at the corporate and sector levels conducted in 2017 and 2018 to better gauge how firms anticipate the way AI might unfold in Europe. The research also updates MGI’s comprehensive global model of the diffusion of AI developed for early research on AI for the EU-28, in particular integrating a perspective on the development of AI startup ecosystems in Europe.

Among the major findings are the following:

  1. Europe is adding an AI gap to its digital gap
  2. AI may scale up in a fast-paced game of competition, innovation, and new skills acquisition
  3. AI could give EU economies a strong boost
  4. AI performance is likely to vary among EU member states
  5. Europe should consider prioritizing action in five areas to accelerate its path to AI
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