1. Comment
  2. Comment
January 27, 2022

Spotify angers users and artists by investing in AI defense company

By GlobalData Thematic Research

In September 2020, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek set up Prima Materia, a $1 billion investment company with a prime directive to bolster EU tech initiatives. In a comment to TechCrunch, Ek declared that Prima Materia was founded “to advance ambitious science and technology to solve the world’s biggest challenges and help society progress towards a better future…Europe has a tremendous opportunity to lead in building dynamic AI systems in an ethical, transparent, and responsible manner”.

Prima Materia put its first stake in AI defense tech start-up Helsing, which produces live maps of battlefields. Using AI fed by data from a variety of military vehicle sensors—including infrared, video, sonar, and radio frequencies—Helsing creates a picture of battlefields in real-time.

Ek argued that these types of investment are key in leveling the playing field, as “when it comes to building globally relevant tech companies, it’s no secret that Europe has underperformed regions like the US and China”. And the evidence suggests that Ek is right.

Aerospace, defense, and security (ADS) patents in AI

When segmented by authority; the numbers of patents related to AI in the past five years (since January 2017) speak for themselves. The following graph shows just how far European countries are lagging behind China and the US in terms of patent publication.

An unpopular decision with Spotify users

Ek’s announcement of this investment in Helsing has sparked controversy and has been very unpopular with some already-disgruntled Spotify users and artists. The decision to invest in an AI defense company has led some users to cancel their subscriptions and some artists to pull their music from the platform, who claim they did not feel comfortable contributing to Ek’s investment in AI defense and military tech.

Producer and DJ Darren Sangita told Resisdent Advisor that “music is being used as a weapon. I can’t sign up to that, so I’ve already unsubscribed and now plan to take all my music down from Spotify”. Protestors have been trying to promote alternatives to Spotify, such as its competitors Bandcamp and Tidal.

Ek argues that it is ethical tech for liberal democracies

Ek argues that Helsing—which has offices in Berlin, Munich, and London—is developing tools “for liberal democracies with shared values”. He claims that the co-founders “Torsten, Gundbert, Niklas, and the entire Helsing team take this responsibility [creating ethical A.I.] seriously and are driven by the same values and ambition that led us to start Prima Materia”.

Ek is not alone in trying to boost European tech initiatives

NATO leaders are very aware of the disparity between tech innovation in Europe and giants like China and the US. In June 2021, NATO’s most senior military officer, Stuart Peach, stepped down. However, just before his departure, he highlighted the “shocking” speed of China’s military modernization and warned of its growing diplomatic presence overseas. Peach raised the prospect that NATO might need to look for alternate sources of funding. On October 22, 2021, defense ministers from 17 allied countries agreed to take the lead on the development of NATO’s first Innovation Fund (worth one billion euros).

Big global players will inevitably continue to compete to be tech leaders and we can only hope that this global AI arms race is conducted with sufficient regulation and foresight.