Supporting innovation, Attracting Innovators
At AER’s event on artificial intelligence (AI) attendees broke into five roundtable discussion groups, each addressing an area of AI important to stakeholders. Contributors highlighted the changes they expect to see in their fields with the progression of AI and its implications for their work. The group titled supporting innovation, attracting innovators was to discuss how regions can support innovation in AI the purpose of doing so. For an hour, they engaged in lively debate over issues such as the financing of AI projects and investment stimulation in a market dominated by GAFA.
Accordingly, group contributors brought extensive expertise in public sector technology investment and included Jean-Luc Vanraes, the President of AER Committee 1 and Chair of AER’s Working Group SMEs and Investments, along with Marie-Josée Blais the Assistant Deputy Minister of Science and Innovation Sector in Québec. As the chair of AER’s Working Group on SMEs and Investments Mr. Vanraes helps to distribute knowledge on SMEs throughout AER and to its members. Ms. Blais’ primary responsibility is the development and implementation of Québec’s research and innovation strategy which has invested 2.8 billion dollars into stimulating innovation in digital technology in Quebec.
Other contributors brought first-hand knowledge of the financial and environmental needs of the AI industry with Pierre Cherelle of Spin-off Axiles Bionics a division of the Brussels Human Robotics Research Centers and Edwin Mermans from the New Mobility Services Initiative of the EIP-SCC Action Cluster Sustainable Urban Mobility working as contributors. The New Mobility Services Initiative is an outgrowth of the EIP-SCC which seeks to facilitate cooperation between cities and the private sector in order to integrate and manage urban transport, as well as contribute to the development of universal systems for “seamless multi-modal mobility”. Their work directly benefits cities and their citizens while offering apathy to growth for innovative enterprises. For those interested, more information about the New Mobility Services Initiative’s actions can be accessed through the embedded link here or at the bottom of the article.
Earlier this year, VUB Robotics won the Best Startup Award at the highly regarded conference IROS’17 in Vancouver, Canada. After ten years of research BHRRC have become industry leaders. developing a new technology which combines advanced robotics and human biomechanics to replicate the unique combination of flexibility and strength in the ankle. As they begin to bring the fruits of their labour to the market, the quality of life for amputees looks to be dramatically improved. Moderating the group was Jonathan Duplicy a scientific advisor from Innoviris who acted as AER’s event partner and who are implementing the Brussels Capital Region’s new 4 million Euro programme dedicated to producing innovation in AI.
Major Changes Expected
In the knowledge based economy of the 21st century, innovation in the technology sector acts as a primary driver of economic competitiveness and growth. Thus, many of the changes predicted by the discussion panel were around boosting the European digital economy. Chiefly, contributors claimed that people can expect a push in the coming years to create multiple Silicon Valleys in Europe to foster innovation in AI. To give life to Europe’s own Silicon Valleys contributors said that work will need to be done in building the support systems and infrastructure these entities need to establish themselves and thrive.
One area of improvement will be getting entrepreneurs the capital they need to finance their operations with co-funding of projects such as public-private partnerships expected to increase to allow cash-strapped regions to stimulate innovation. To avoid burying start-ups in fees and paperwork, legal frameworks in the field of AI will become more flexible. Helping to provide resources specific to innovators’ needs will be the emergence of AI hubs consisting of incubators which will supply things like co-working spaces and allow for the exchange of best practices. Additionally, they noted that the approach to stimulating innovation will require a two-pronged approach consisting of top-down national plans to regulate and fund innovation, and bottom-up demand driven creation of SMEs. Moreover, contributors expected continual integration of the latest AI technology from research hubs and academia into business and industry which will improve productivity.
Although the development of AI promises to improve the lives of many, the road to fostering innovation will be far from easy. Many of the challenges outlined by contributors centered around creating a business environment where companies can succeed. One test anticipated by contributors is the removal of administrative barriers which increase the amount of time and resources required for companies to get off the ground. Even when companies succeed in bring their product to the market, an obstacle will be breaking up monopolies on AI in the tech sector which stifle the growth of start-ups. For entrepreneurs to gain access to financing in the first place, contributors said that Europe must work towards further cultivating an entrepreneurial culture. They believe that regions will have to become far less risk adverse to investment in technology development and research, particularly in early stage ventures. Granting innovative projects early on will help compensate for high costs needed to develop AI, according to contributors.
When it comes to financing for projects, attracting partners for PPPs may prove to be a difficulty for regions who have historically experienced minimal growth in the tech sector. Moreover, to maximize efficiency regions contributors said regions must cooperate to avoid industry overlap and ensure that competitive advantages are being built. Finally, participants expected to encounter difficulties in articulating a positive vision about the benefits of such a complex technology to organisations and public bodies dealing with AI.
Mr. Mermans talked about how the Smart Cities and Communities partnership has been making headway in using electronic data collection from citizens and different devices to come up with innovative solutions to some of the environmental, societal and health challenges facing European cities today. Some of the work done in co-funding projects and in coordinating existing city initiatives and projects through resource pooling have already contributed to lower pollution and congestion levels in cities.
Indeed, participants affirmed that regions have the financial and intellectual capacities to be at the forefront of the fourth industrial revolution, citing Innoviris as an example who have funded numerous scientific research projects based locally in Brussels. Particularly insightful was the experience of Quebec who created a national innovation strategy by developing the infrastructure to connect AI stakeholders such as corporations, academia, and investors. This policy has borne fruit in extensive investment in AI in Quebec, helping Montreal become one of the global leaders of AI and deep learning.
Regions as Leaders in Innovation
While the United States and Asia have produced hundreds of tech start-ups, Europe’s pace has not been nearly as prolific. Many European tech start-ups have been bought out by US companies while talented computer scientists have left for Silicon Valley. Events such as AER’s AI help provide a forum where participants can learn from each other’s expertise and experiences, giving a starting point for ideas which will once again make regions leaders in AI innovation.