Europe and the US are facing a rift over technology

The risk of a major technology blow-up between the US and Europe is growing. A few weeks ago, we wrote about how the European Union wanted to boost its "technological sovereignty" by tightening its oversight of Big Tech and promoting its own alternatives to big US and Chinese firms in areas like cloud computing and artificial intelligence.

Last week, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and her top digital officials unveiled their first concrete proposals for regulating AI, and pledged to invest billions of euros to turn Europe into a data superpower.


It's an ambitious plan and Washington is going to hate it. Here's a quick summary of the emerging fault lines that could turn old Cold War allies into digital adversaries:

Data: Brussels wants to cut big US tech companies down to size and promote European competitors, and data (the lifeblood of today's tech firms) is the focus. The EU wants to invest 6 billion euros to create "European data spaces" that can help local companies compete against Silicon Valley and Chinese tech giants that have access to mountains of data. The EU might also force some companies that have a lot of data to share more of it with competitors. What Brussels views as clever industrial policy, Washington is likely to view as protectionism.

Artificial intelligence: The EU also outlined plans to regulate artificial intelligence, focusing on uses of AI that could lead to serious harm if something goes wrong (think driverless cars going haywire, or an HR app that turns out to be racist). It wants to require companies working on so-called "high-risk" AI to submit their algorithms to mandatory tests and checks. But defining what is "high-risk" and deciding what hoops companies will have to jump through will be contentious. The US has already warned Europe against adopting "heavy handed innovation-killing" AI regulation.

Other attempts to rein in Big Tech: The EU is also pushing for new rules for internet companies to remove violent or other harmful content from their websites. And it's investigating the possibility of tightening competition rules to better deal with big internet platforms.

Of course, none of this is happening in a vacuum. The potential for a big transatlantic digital spat is growing as both sides are grappling with the implications of digital disruption for jobs and democracy and trying to come to grips with China's rise as a technology power. The US and Europe would be stronger confronting these challenges together. But at a time when the transatlantic relationship is already strained by trade spats and doubts about America's commitment to NATO, technology looks like one more wedge driving the two sides apart.

Amid the current need to continually focus on the COVID-19 crisis, it is understandably hard to address other important issues. But, on March 31st, Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed landmark facial recognition legislation that the state legislature passed on March 12, less than three weeks, but seemingly an era, ago. Nonetheless, it's worth taking a moment to reflect on the importance of this step. This legislation represents a significant breakthrough – the first time a state or nation has passed a new law devoted exclusively to putting guardrails in place for the use of facial recognition technology.

For more on Washington's privacy legislation, visit Microsoft On The Issues.

Over the past decade or so, the European Union has weathered the global financial crisis, a migrant crisis, and the rise of populist nationalism. Sure, it's taken its fair share of bumps and bruises along the way, but the idea of a largely borderless Europe united by common democratic values has survived more or less intact.

Then came the coronavirus. The global pandemic, in which Europe is now one of the two main epicentres, is a still-spiralling nightmare that could make those previous crises look benign by comparison. Here are a few different ways that COVID-19 is severely testing the 27-member bloc:

The economic crisis: Lockdowns intended to stop the virus' spread have brought economic activity to a screeching halt, and national governments are going to need to spend a lot of money to offset the impact. But some EU members can borrow those funds more easily than others. Huge debt loads and deficits in southern European countries like Italy and Spain, which have been hardest hit by the outbreak so far, make it costlier for them to borrow than more fiscally conservative Germany and other northern member states. In the aftermath of the global financial crisis, this imbalance nearly led the bloc's common currency, the Euro, to unravel.

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The coronavirus pandemic is already wreaking havoc on developed countries where residents are able to socially distance themselves and self-quarantine. So what would happen if the contagion spread amongst the most vulnerable populations – refugees and asylum seekers in jam-packed camps? Many in refugee camps don't have access to running water or soap, which would make it all but impossible to slow the spread of the disease by washing their hands. Human rights advocates are bracing for a potential deadly outbreak at one these sites, where even ordinary infections spread like wildfire. Here's a look at some of the world's largest refugee camps, where the stakes are highest.

Ian Bremmer provides his perspective in (slightly) more than 60 seconds: What's the coronavirus update? And when will a state of normalcy return?

Oh, that's easy. A state of normalcy will not return when we start returning to work. I certainly think that the decision by President Trump to push out to the end of April was rational. I think in certain parts of the country, it's likely to be much longer. By that, I think New York City, maybe June is when you start really seeing end of quarantines and people going back to work. But when you don't have a vaccine, the likelihood that people are going to trust going to sports and concerts and bars and restaurants or sitting in the middle seat and bringing their family to Disney is going to take a long time. I think really you need a vaccine at scale before that happens and that's well over a year out. Why? I think that all the numbers you're seeing right now about the strong rebound of the economy in the third and fourth quarter is over optimistic. And instead, you're going to need significant additional bailouts come summer, which the Americans will be able to do. Emerging markets will not. And I'm much more worried about what happens to them going forward.

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Ben White, Chief Economic Correspondent for Politico, provides his perspective on the coronavirus-related news in US politics: What's the coronavirus update? Are we bending the curve?

No, we're not. Still exponential growth in places like New Orleans and Detroit. New York City is still a mess. So, unlike South Korea, we have not started to bend the curve.

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