Policy makers, stakeholders, academics, and entrepreneurs gathered in Brussels on Thursday 30 November at AER’s event “Artificial Intelligence: Are Regions Up to The Challenge?” to discuss the policy implications of the rise of Artificial Intelligence.
The event offered a rare opportunity for the various participants to take part in a genuine exchange. While one goal was to identify areas where regions can be active now, the event was designed to facilitate mutual learning through the stories and experiences shared by each participant. By way of discussions, participants gained perspective on the obstacles and opportunities their peers are facing with the progression of AI. As a follow up to last year’s successful event last year on E-Health, this year’s focus was on the disruptive effects of AI and its impact at a regional level.
Knowledge flow vs position papers
AER has a long history of helping regional policy makers to learn from each others in order to innovate the public sector. AER President Magnus Berntsson said in his opening speech:
This is our DNA. We exchange experiences to learn from each others, join forces to influence and initiate cooperation projects
At AER we provide the space where collaboration and project ideas are generated, this space we call Committees. The Committees are not a group of people, they are a lab for policy innovation
And indeed what characterises AER is the flow of knowledge, ideas and experiences. The event therefore did not lead to a declaration or a position because knowledge needs to be shared and grow, instead of becoming frozen into a position paper.
This idea of flow is key to understanding the raison d’être of this event, which was hosted by Brussels Capital Region and AER Committee 1 President Jean Luc Vanraes.
As Mr Vanraes explained the event was developed in an iterative way, based on the topics AER members are working on.
We organised a first discussion on the occasion of the Nancy plenaries to identify good practices, questions and challenges”
Mr Vanraes went further saying:
AI will, and is already having an impact on most policy areas and will definitely disrupt society as we know it. As policy makers we have a duty to prepare these changes.
Nathanaël Ackerman, the founder and managing director of Hub France Artificial Intelligence offered an overview of what artificial intelligence actually is and chronicled the promises of AI. His presentation can be found on the AI event webpage.
Who is afraid of the big bad AI?
After the speeches, attendees discussed particular policy areas AER is working on such as innovation, health, culture and education. A fifth group discussed ethics as the future of human-machine interaction raises many ethical and maybe even existential questions. The particularity of these discussion group lay in the fact there was not a classical distinction between speakers and listeners: attendees were invited to take part in the conversation together with the identified contributors, which allowed for vivid discussions.
Supporting innovation, attracting innovators
How can regions support innovation in AI and what is the purpose of doing so? To answer this vast question, the moderator, Jonathan Duplicy of Innoviris, the Brussels Institute for Research and Innovation asked contributors to share examples of AI applications, changes ahead and the challenges they were themselves faced with. The group discussed questions related to international AI strategies, new mobilities, robotics and the future of work.
The Health Revolution
Tanya Znamenski, Public Health Analyst at PatientsTalk facilitated a discussion around the major changes AI will bring to both the delivery and organization of healthcare in society. Up for discussion was the changing relationship between doctors and patients, as E-Health begins to democratize medicine. Relatedly, issues surrounding the protection of patient privacy as patients’ medical records begin to exist online were to be debated. Another area of discussion was the ways in which AI will alter the practice of medicine, namely in the diagnosis and management of patients. It was important for regional politicians, stakeholders, and policy makers to share their experiences with AI and its current integration in their healthcare systems.
Culture In a Digital World
While it is a policy of its own, especially at regional level, culture is also often found at the intersection of other policies ranging from economic development to health and wellbeing. This group moderated by Christophe De Jaeger, director of GLUON, a Brussels-based an organisation that realises projects on the crossing borders of visual art, research and industry, discussed the role of artificial intelligence role in the creative arts industry with its rapidly progressing abilities to generate both highly complex art and music. Culture is a crucial component to regional economic development and helps to create a common identity. Therefore, it is important for regions to facilitate collaboration between technology developers and members of the creative arts industry.
Skills and Competences: racing with machines
As AI continues to progress in its ability to perform not only blue-collar jobs, but ones involving high amounts of training and expertise the skills and competencies which are required to obtain secure employment will change. Thus, the aim for this roundtable was to have discussions centered around the skills and competencies which will be most valuable to the economy going forwards. To this end, the group discussed what is specifically human and how education could help pupils develop the right skills to race with machines instead of racing against machines. Moderating the group was Ann Nowe VUB Artificial Intelligence lab who brought first hand knowledge of the current capabilities of AI.
AI: Towards a Soulless World?
The goal with this discussion group was raising complicated but important points on ethical questions surrounding AI. One of the main question adressed was people’s relationships with technology in a digital world, asking what it means to be human as people and technology become further linked. Contributors in this group brought examples from the private sector in fields as diverse as neuro-rehabilitation and design as well as the experience of politicians. The group was moderated by Diane Whitehouse, a Principal eHealth Policy Analyst at EHTEL.
After the break attendees convened to bring forward their reports from their discussion groups, containing their findings and recommendations.
Funding for AI Innovation
An important event in the day was a presentation from DG Connect’s Cecile Huet, who informed them about how regions and entrepreneurs would be able to access funding to stimulate innovation and research in AI. For innovators and entrepreneurs, the two most relevant aspects of her presentation were Digital Innovation Hubs (DIHs) and the proposed European AI-on-demand platform. As a summary, DIHs are one stop shops which provide companies with the resources they need to become more competitive in a desired area. DIHs provide business and financial support to help implement different innovations, and provide access to the latest technology, expertise, and knowledge to help with the testing and experimentation of digital innovations. Whether large or small DIHs provide help for companies looking to upgrade to their infrastructure to suited for the digital age. Crucially for regions, they are the first point of contact into the EU’s innovation ecosystem. Over the next five years, the European Commission has invested 500 million Euros. Calls related to DIHs are available under the Horizon 2020 programme for 2018 and 2019.
Another notable aspect of Ms. Huet’s presentation is the open call for proposals to fund a 20-million-Euro project on AI, the European AI-on-demand platform. The project’s stated aim is to “mobilise the European AI community to support businesses and sectors in accessing expertise, knowledge, algorithms and tools to successfully apply AI thereby generating market impact.” By creating a platform which combines knowledge and access to data, the project hopes to offer solutions and support to all users of AI to integrate such technology into application, products and services. This will boost European industry competitiveness worldwide and help bring the benefits of AI to the average citizen whether it be through assistance in active and healthy aging or the transportation industry. For more information on DIHs and the European-AI-on-demand platform, her presentation can be accessed on the event webpage.
Visit to VUB AI Lab
To conclude the event, participants were treated to a visit to VUB’s AI Lab, a leading centre in AI innovation. At the lab, they were able to witness real innovation first hand, meeting with the Robotics and Language Evolution Group who focuses on the evolution of language and communication systems.
AI application demos included the use of philogenic trees for the analysis of epidemics, reinforced learning for industrial questions, smart grids and energy coins, smart prothesis and language processing.
The Importance of Networking
One of the most important aspects of this event was its ability to bring together stakeholders in AI who may not have the opportunity to work together. Exchanges between the different stakeholders in AI is vital to the development of technology which serves the needs of citizens and regulatory frameworks which integrate the technologies smoothly into society. A goal with AER’s event on AI was to help build bridges between the different stakeholders ranging from academics, to AI companies like the Brussels Human Robotics Research Center, and regional politicians to help them arrive at mutual understandings of the other’s areas and needs.
A Note of Thanks
This event would not have happened without the support of Innoviris and the Brussels Capital Region.