European Commission Unveils Strategy to Lead Web 4.0 and Virtual Worlds

A new strategy for Web 4.0 and virtual worlds has been unveiled by the European Commission in an effort to steer the next technological revolution and guarantee a safe, open, and welcoming online environment for individuals, organizations, and government agencies across the EU.

Web 4.0, the next generation of the internet, is expected to integrate digital and real objects and environments, enhancing interactions between humans and machines. The EU economy’s outlook beyond 2030 identifies digitalisation as a key driver, with Web 4.0 as a significant technological transition that will bring an interconnected, intelligent, and immersive world. The global virtual worlds market is projected to grow from €27 billion in 2022 to over €800 billion by 2030.

The new strategy aims to create a Web 4.0 and virtual worlds that reflect EU values and principles, where people’s rights are fully respected and European businesses can thrive. The strategy aligns with the 2030 objectives of the Digital Decade policy programme and its key pillars of digitalisation: skills, business, and public services. It also addresses the openness and global governance of virtual worlds and Web 4.0.

Key pillars of the strategy include:

  1. Empowering people and reinforcing skills: The Commission plans to promote guiding principles for virtual worlds and develop a ‘Citizen toolbox’ by the first quarter of 2024. It will also work with Member States to set up a talent pipeline and support skills development through projects funded by the Digital Europe Programme and the Creative Europe programme.
  2. Supporting a European Web 4.0 industrial ecosystem: The Commission has proposed a candidate Partnership on Virtual Worlds under Horizon Europe, starting possibly in 2025, to foster excellence in research and develop an industrial and technological roadmap for virtual worlds.
  3. Supporting societal progress and virtual public services: The Commission is launching two new public flagships, “CitiVerse”, an immersive urban environment for city planning and management, and a European Virtual Human Twin, which will replicate the human body to support clinical decisions and personal treatment.
  4. Shaping global standards for open and interoperable virtual worlds and Web 4.0: The Commission will engage with internet governance stakeholders worldwide and promote Web 4.0 standards in line with the EU’s vision and values.

The strategy builds on the work of the European Commission on virtual worlds and consultations with citizens, academia, and businesses. The Commission hosted a European Citizens’ Panel on Virtual Worlds between February and April 2023, whose recommendations have guided specific actions included in the strategy on Web 4.0 and virtual worlds.

The Commission’s initiative is a significant step towards ensuring that the future of the internet and virtual worlds is shaped by a broad range of stakeholders, reflecting diverse perspectives and interests. It highlights the EU’s commitment to leading the next technological transition, fostering innovation, and ensuring that the digital environment remains open, secure, and inclusive.

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European Commission Launches Research Unit to Investigate Algorithms Used by Big Tech

The European Commission has taken a significant step towards regulating Big Tech by launching a new research unit called the European Centre for Algorithmic Transparency (ECAT). The primary focus of ECAT is to investigate the impact of algorithms made and used by prominent online platforms and search engines such as Facebook and Google. The team will analyze and evaluate the AI-backed algorithms used by Big Tech firms to identify and address any potential risks posed by these platforms.

The European Union’s existing Joint Research Centre will embed ECAT, which conducts research on a broad range of subjects including artificial intelligence. The team will consist of data scientists, AI experts, social scientists, and legal experts. The group’s focus will be to conduct algorithmic accountability and transparency audits, as required by the Digital Services Act, a set of European Union rules enforceable as of Nov. 16, 2022.

AI-based programs are built using a series of complex algorithms, meaning ECAT will also be looking at algorithms that underpin AI chatbots such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT, which some believe could eventually replace search engines. The team will examine the algorithms used by Big Tech firms to ensure that they are transparent and that their operations do not harm users.

According to Thierry Breton, the EU’s internal market commissioner, ECAT will “look under the hood” of large search engines and online platforms to “see how their algorithms function and contribute to the spread of illegal and harmful content.” This move by the European Commission is a significant development in regulating Big Tech firms, and it will ensure that these companies are held accountable for the impact of their algorithms on society.

The development of AI has been a contentious issue, with nearly a dozen EU politicians calling for the “safe” development of AI in a signed open letter on April 16. The lawmakers asked United States President Joe Biden and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to convene a summit on AI and agree on a set of governing principles for the development, control, and deployment of the tech.

Tech entrepreneur Elon Musk also expressed his concerns about the development of AI. He argued on an April 17 Fox News interview that AI chatbots like ChatGPT have a left-wing bias and said that he was developing an alternative called “TruthGPT.” This move by Musk highlights the growing concerns about the ethical implications of AI and its impact on society.

In conclusion, the launch of ECAT by the European Commission is a significant development in regulating Big Tech firms. It will ensure that these companies are held accountable for the impact of their algorithms on society, and it will also help to identify and address any potential risks posed by these platforms. The team of experts at ECAT will play a vital role in conducting algorithmic accountability and transparency audits to ensure that the algorithms used by Big Tech firms are transparent and do not harm users.

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Crypto Mining May be Sacrificed as EU Continues to Battle Energy Crisis

The European Commission is preparing the minds of leaders in its member states as they may need to halt cryptocurrency mining on their shores should the strain on the energy industry in the region demand it. 

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According to a Press Release, detailing an action plan to digitalize the energy sector, the commission reiterated the onus may soon lie on its member states to completely ban Proof-of-Work (PoW) mining systems used by such crypto assets as Bitcoin (BTC), Ethereum Classic (ETC), and Dogecoin (DOGE).

The ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine has put additional strain on the region’s energy capabilities and the sanctions being placed on the Russian government also include the cap on the oil coming from the Putin-led country.

With winter coming, the energy demands of households and industries will increase. While it may be difficult to forecast the state of things between the EU and Russia in the most critical times, the European Commission has chosen to take a proactive approach towards preparing its member countries on what it might cost to free up the electricity grid with the load coming from crypto miners.

In the longer term, the European Commission plans to introduce a rating system that will categorize crypto miners based on their estimated environmental impact. The introduction of this rating system is a compromise attained when there was pushback earlier this year when the ban of PoW from the Markets in Crypto Assets (MiCA) regulation was vehemently opposed by members of the European Parliament.

According to the commission, the transition from PoW to a Proof-of-Stake (PoS) system by the Ethereum Network is more or less the nature of transformations it hopes to see in the near future. With the proposals for the crypto miner rating already underway, its implementation, if approved will be slated for 2025.

Image source: Shutterstock

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