After blockchain success, Malta to take on AI giants

Silvio Schembri says Malta aspires to become a place in which local and foreign companies and entrepreneurs can develop, prototype, test and scale AI, and ultimately showcase the value from their innovations across an entire nation primed for adoption

Parliamentary Secretary for Digital Innovation Silvio Schembri
Parliamentary Secretary for Digital Innovation Silvio Schembri

Following the crypto leap which spring-boarded Malta as one of the leaders in Distributed Ledge Technologies (DLT), the government has now set its sight on Artificial Intelligence (AI) to further cement itself as a leader in up-and-coming technologies.

Just last week, members of the AI Taskforce together with various experts and stakeholders in the field met up to discuss the first draft of the full-blown AI strategy.

Parliamentary Secretary for Digital Innovation Silvio Schembri said that Malta aspires to become a place in which local and foreign companies and entrepreneurs can develop, prototype, test and scale AI, and ultimately showcase the value from their innovations across an entire nation primed for adoption.

“Our ambition is to create the conditions for AI to springboard from Malta to the world.” he said.

During this event, a 44-page high-level policy document was published, outlining black on white the holistic national strategy on Artificial Intelligence.

Malta as the ultimate AI launchpad

According to the week-old Taskforce document, the final strategy will map out a clear path for Malta to gain a strategic competitive advantage in the global economy as a leader in AI. In essence, this will generate investment and position the country as a hub for AI applications, niche areas of R&D, and a vibrant startup community.

Our ambition is to create the conditions for AI to a springboard from Malta to the world Parliamentary Secretary Silvio Schembri

Key to the strategy are ways in which AI could be deployed for government operations to enhance civic services including healthcare, education and traffic management. Furthermore, the strategy draws upon the need to re-invent and update the educational framework to provide the talent pool necessary for such an operation.

In addition to this, the government is also keen to transform the island into the ultimate AI launchpad; a place where local and foreign companies alike can develop, test and ultimately showcase their products across an entire nation before exporting them internationally.

The brains behind the strategy believe that Malta’s peculiar strengths and limitations can help transform the nation into a quasi-test bed of artificial intelligent applications. They reckon that the island’s tech-savvy, English-speaking population, together with current telecoms infrastructure and legal framework will make Malta an attractive destination for AI giants and start-ups alike.

The building blocks of the strategy

The foundations laid in the strategy sets focus on three main principal pillars: Investment, Start-Ups and Innovation, Public Sector Adoption, and Private Sector Adoption.

First and foremost Malta seeks to attract investment and talent to bolster this sector. The primary focus will be given to economic development and foreign direct investment. In spite of this, Malta will look to attract and will welcome companies of all shapes and sizes, ranging from start-ups to global tech powerhouses.

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Moreover, the government aims to transform the public sector into a vitrine of AI-based projects, providing better services to citizens and businesses while also enhancing the internal operations of the public sector. The aim is to develop tailor-made innovative AI systems to address some of the most salient domestic challenges including, traffic management, healthcare, education, governmental services, and elderly care.

On the other hand, the government is keen to question the willingness of the private sector to adapt to such technologies. According to the high-level policy document, the possible success stories emerging from public AI projects will hopefully serve as an inspiration to the private sector. Thus, serving as a testament to the technology and further accelerating the progress of AI-based applications. To this end, policy tools will be developed to speed up the adoption, including awareness campaigns to squash AI skepticism.

Supporting the aforementioned pillars are three strategic enablers: Education and Workforce, Legal and Ethical Framework and Ecosystem Infrastructure. As part of this strategy, policy measures will be designed to equip, train and continuously improve workers across all branches of society, help businesses harness the full extent of AI and update Malta’s educational framework to the requirements of ‘The Fourth Industrial Revolution.’

Plans to bolster the legal framework and overall infrastructure

Much of the success attributed to Malta’s blitzkrieg on DLT technologies, rests with the unprecedented ability of the Secretariat to draft up a regulatory approach that supports such emerging technology.  In this case, however, AI raises profound questions on ethics and legality raging from national security, commercial interests and a possible disruption to the 1949 Geneva Convention. In light of this, Malta will now look to develop a regulatory approach that supports its AI ambitions.

Such plans will include the development of a National Ethics Framework, the exploration of a regulatory sandbox which will provide exemptions, clear liability provisions that provide clarity and protection and a separate provision to clarify the ownership of intellectual property rights in AI- generate outputs.

In addition to the above, the government shall asses the current state of enablers vitally needed the success of an AI ecosystem.

Subsequently, it plans to design a blueprint of data infrastructure projects which will allow AI to flourish. Careful consideration will be given to infrastructural projects that include access to resources, technology, platforms, institutional infrastructure, and external partners.

The Malta.AI workshop was attended and addressed by Irina Orssich, author of Coordination Plan on Artificial Intelligence within the EU Commission, who praised Malta’s proactive stance in Artificial Intelligence.

“It is a document which is brought down to Malta’s reality. The way Malta was looking at its strength and trying to build from there and see all the elements, that is very interesting and it is complementing to what the EU is looking for”, Orssich said.

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