Accelerating the AI National Strategy

AI is a highly specialised field of study, and expertise doesn’t grow on trees.  Thus, to build the human capital we will need in the coming years, we must invest further in education


The National Artificial Intelligence (AI) strategy, launched in 2019, placed Malta on the global map of AI. Such an achievement was quite impressive, considering that some of the much larger European counterparts were still drafting their strategy when we launched ours.

Subsequently, it was also ranked 10th place out of 54 countries in the Global AI Index carried out by Tortoise Media.

In a world where AI supremacy has become the goal of many superpowers and considering that every economic sector is becoming dependent on it, we must do our utmost to lay the foundations for the generations to come.

AI is a highly specialised field of study, and expertise doesn’t grow on trees.  Thus, to build the human capital we will need in the coming years, we must invest further in education.

In Malta, one can find the central hub of AI expertise at the University of Malta. Because of this, our Alma Mater must take a leading role in the Intelligent Digitisation of the Island.

It already boasts a very active AI Department with roots spanning more than three decades. Its academics are knowledgeable in different aspects, from Natural Language Processing, Computer Vision, Robotics and many others, to name a few.

But the University’s expertise isn’t restricted, and I am sure that other academics in the Faculty of ICT and beyond use AI techniques in their daily work.

What’s still lacking is a mechanism of getting our limited resources together and use them to accelerate the implementation of the National AI strategy. Because of this, the strategy also proposes setting up a new structure to spearhead Applied AI initiatives. We are not reinventing the wheel here but adopting models tried and tested by top Universities such as Standford, CMU, and MIT.

This structure can take the form of a Center of Applied AI (CAAI). It should not focus on the theoretical research or the provision of academic degrees since other departments already handle it, but it should provide the following services:

  1. Since different departments at University make use of AI techniques, it would be good to have a place whereby academics can meet and promote their work. These academics would still maintain their affiliation to their department, but they can service the CAAI with their expertise.
  2. Such a centre would foster cross-departmental collaboration amongst these academics, thus helping them grow and seek EU or Nationally funded opportunities together.
  3. The CAAI would offer short courses to the other Faculties so that any student who graduates from University gets a basic knowledge of AI.

It will also focus on bringing together students and alumni working in AI, thus acting as a reference point for these professionals.

In a horizontal field like AI, collaboration is critical. The research happening today already spans different areas such as health, transportation, education, etc. But to keep on building on all the good that exists and accelerate it, one has to promote cross-departmental and Faculty collaborations. These collaborations can help academics with little knowledge of AI work with AI experts to tap national or European funding sources. Such an initiative is vital for the University, especially when one considers that a substantial chunk of Horizon Europe (the key funding programme of the EU) focuses on AI solutions.

The role of the Center should also focus on the upcoming generations by organising outreach initiatives with educational institutions and organise evangelisation events for young adults.

Short courses can also be provided to the general public in collaboration with the Center of Liberal Arts, thus helping adults already in employment to upskill themselves.

Outreach is also essential with the industry since it can help companies accelerate their digital transformation. Because of this, the centre will organise talks and short courses to keep them informed about the latest innovations while promoting collaborations with the various Faculties.

Both Government and Industry will face a significant shortage of AI expertise in the coming years. To get around this problem which might act as a bottleneck for the development of our economy, the experts of the CAAI would provide consultancy to the various organisation, thus helping accelerate the adoption of AI. Furthermore, they will also support them in tapping both national and EU funds and, in so doing, bringing more projects to University.

The CAAI will also stir a national debate on the various facets of AI, thus pushing a mature discussion on the effects of automation on our labour market and how we can prepare for the upcoming challenges.

These are just some of the major initiatives which the centre can take. Like any other organisation, it will evolve with time.

But what’s for sure is that we need something like this to accelerate the adoption of the AI National Strategy. Without it, I’m afraid that the various good initiatives currently in place will not have the intended impact they deserve.

And then one fine day, it will be too late because the AI tsunami, which is fast approaching on the horizon, would have passed.

The choice, in the end, is clear. Either ride on the wave or stay behind, trying to make sense of the debris left from the approaching AI revolution.

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