The chivalrous quest of robotics and AI | PKF Malta

The trajectory of new technologies can be enigmatic. They start off from an initial idea, which is often outlandish or somewhat crazy, going through a series of milestones in laboratories, and finally making the leap from laboratories to the real world


One may be intrigued by the incidence of the heightened tempo in party propaganda embracing the upcoming MEP and Local Councils elections by political parties.

The administration is in a race to announce new projects to please voters. The latest fad seems to be promising to build more social housing - and of course government has given the green light for the Gozo tunnel.

Party apologists find comfort and prosper in hailing the administration for promising so many ambitious projects. Definitely others equally made hay while the sun shine under the patronage of the pro-business attitude of the Planning Authority.

On to the subject of robotics and artificial intelligence (AI). This has become the flavour of the month and finds the wholehearted support of government which, for the second time, is sponsoring a mega blockchain and AI conference this month.

This is an initiative in the right direction and has led to other events which are being organised concurrently by the private sector.

PKF had put its shoulders to the wheel when, three years ago, it hosted an international event at the Microsoft Innovation Centre, Skyparks Gudja. The event styled “Blueprint for Innovation” saw an expert lineup of speakers. These included Gor Sargsyan, MD , Qbiticlogic  International Atlanta USA based in Silicon Valley, Stas Gayshan MD, CIC Boston US, Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando Chairman MCST, Joe Woods MD, Creolabs, Netrefer CEO, Kenneth Farrugia ,President FinanceMalta, Ing Joe Sammut CEO LifeSciences Park, top speakers from MCAST and University while the parliamentary secretary Silvio Schembri responsible for Innovation at OPM gave the opening speech.

Media comments were positive as all agreed that the island needs to do more to boost its contribution to R&D which based as a percentage of GDP is one of the lowest in the EU and in this context, the government in its 2019 budget is pledging to open the taps for more investment.

The good news is that for the MEP and local council elections all political parties are promising to increase investment in innovation and related Blockchain subjects.

Alas, we heard it so many times by the public sector that it plans to support an innovation and business accelerator centre of caliber. It seems that the spirit is willing but the body is weak yet the private sector is slowly moving to fill the gap.

It professes to be a true catalyst to anchor existing research within the diverse manufacturing community and to attract new ones.

There is so much at risk for our country in its quest to harness the best brains in the fields of digital research and AI.

The nonchalant attitude of maintaining the status quo - saying “if it is not broken then do not change it” - is deceptive.

The trajectory of new technologies can be enigmatic. They start off from an initial idea, which is often outlandish or somewhat crazy, going through a series of milestones in laboratories, and finally making the leap from laboratories to the real world.

One may ask-what are the potential new technologies being researched and studied locally and how would these be applied in to improve the competiveness of our manufacturing and services economy.

Three years ago, the author pioneered a familiarisation trip visiting Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston, USA to explore links to promote Malta as a potential business accelerator and/or life sciences hub for innovators, inventors and entrepreneurs.

It is interesting to note that the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is a private research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts founded in 1861 -  built in response to the increasing industrialisation of the United States.  The uniqueness of MIT is in its appetite for problem-solving - especially those intratable technical problems whose solutions make a tangible difference.

Be that as it may, while not taking giant steps yet within our limitations, one cannot but admire the world-class research ongoing in the Department of Physics at the University of Malta. A senior lecturer in quantum mechanics in the Department of Physics at the University of Malta is coordinating a pioneering project which involves group research.

The local team is concerned with developing the basis for a new kind of technology - machine learning which brings with it a substantial challenge.

What is machine learning and how does this science integrate with the latest craze of Artificial intelligence and its sister technology concerning driver-less cars?

Machine learning frequently involves solving problems of manipulating and classifying large numbers of vectors in high-dimensional spaces. Classical algorithms for solving such problems typically take time involving a number of vectors within the dimension of space.

Naturally with the advent of cheaper processors and huge data memory banks one can use super computers to manage data running at exponential speed. These so-called quantum computers are essential to manipulate high-dimensional vectors so common in clusters.

There are many applications which benefit from quantum learning using algorithms which lead to input-output relationships. This is important for tasks such as image and speech recognition or strategy optimisation, with growing applications in the IT industry and of course it is used to interpret real-time images relayed from multiple car sensors so prevalent in driver-less technology.

Ideas range from running computationally costly algorithms or their subroutines efficiently on a quantum computer to efficient translation of mathematical exercises involving various topics being researched.

Another application is in problem solving. Computers really took off only after it became possible to build not just single transistors but chips containing many of them, up to billions in the latest fast processors.

The limiting factor is their electricity consumption and heat generation so experimentation has started to use light as a source for running processors. This platform can be applied to improve devices across the board.

In the future, it will create a means for computers to work directly with light, which will run systems that are more efficient and use less power. One foreseen application is to create motion sensors so accurate that they could help us navigate underground, for example in digging long tunnels or underwater, where GPS signals are unavailable.

These technologies, which could disrupt markets and generate economic growth are merely the tip of the iceberg.

Understanding the inherent complexity of the quantum world, the ramifications how the laws of physics can disrupt information and its ability to adapt mathematical norms developed in quantum theory can place the island in a competitive stance where researchers are appreciated as creators of a bright future. 

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