Throughout this study abroad, we have learned about and visited the important institutions of the European Union. Today, we took a different look at the European Union through the lense of a multinational corporation operating within it, Google. Clara Sommier welcomed us to Google Brussels and began our visit with an information session. She explained that she is a former employee of the European Parliament and part of her position at Google is advising members of the European Parliament on different technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), related to proposed legislation.

When we went to the European Youth Event in Strasbourg, we learned about Google’s Art and Culture project. This project, in part, focused on digitizing museums around the world so that people would be able to see important exhibits and learn about different cultures no matter what country they reside in. We were able to ask Clara more about this project during our visit. She explained that Google has partnered with multiple museums for this project but it was a difficult process to get the museums to agree to be a part of this project. Naturally, they are protective of their artifacts. I found this very interesting because museums are a celebration of culture and an important tool for everyone to learn about important historical events. I assumed that these museums would jump at the opportunity to share their exhibits with the world. Thankfully, this initial hesitation has subsided and Google has been able to add virtual tours of many museums on the Google Arts and Culture portal.

In addition to explaining the Google Arts and Culture project, Clara showed us a new program that Google created called Project X. This project is based on the nth degree of separation theory and allows you to choose two paintings and then based on the style and influences the algorithm detects in the paintings, it will then populate a line of similar paintings. This project is a great example of how modern technology can enhance the experience of viewing historical artifacts.

The later half of our discussion focused on Google’s response to the GDPR and the issue of demonetization of YouTube videos based on an algorithm. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was implemented on May 25th and Google and Facebook were among the first companies to be hit with lawsuits following its implementation. The lawsuit claimed that Google did not take enough measures to comply with the GDPR. Despite this lawsuit, we were assured that Google is working hard to comply with the GDPR and all of its required stipulations. Google is the parent company of YouTube and because of this, Clara was asked about Google’s thoughts on the demonization of YouTube videos. She explained to us that an algorithm decides on where an ad is placed based on a set of selections that YouTube creators select and that the advertisers select. She acknowledges that the algorithm is not perfect but that it can only continue to be improved to solve this problem as it learns through its machine learning capabilities.

The intersection of technology and the European Union was a very interesting topic to learn about because we traditionally think of these organizations as strictly bureaucratic when in reality, they are advised by multinational corporations on a variety of issues to make sure that they make the most informed decision possible on a piece of legislation involving technology.

After our visit to Google, we ended the day with a visit to Maison Antoine for some fries before starting our first weekend in Brussels!