On a mission: Turning Malta into an AI powerhouse

But if we want to be serious about AI, we have no other choice, and there is no other entity in Malta that can achieve this task apart from the University


A few months back, the Government of Malta launched the Malta.AI National Strategy.

It’s nothing short of an ambitious endeavour aimed at making Malta one of the top 10 countries in the world with regards to Artificial Intelligence (AI).

However, this is only the start of the journey, and real work starts now!                   

AI is not just another buzzword which we will forget in a few months.

It is a collection of different technologies which have been under development since the Second World War.

Their level of maturity is exceptionally high, and billions of people are finally benefitting from their use. So much so that people refer to AI as the new electricity of the Millennium.

The University of Malta has a crucial role to play in this strategy and is vital for its national success or failure.

Let’s not forget that the University has been conducting AI research for almost four decades.

Its trove of expertise is unparalleled, both here in Malta and also in many other countries.

But since Malta needs to accelerate its AI uptake, the only entity which can achieve this is, without doubt, the University of Malta.

Because of this, the Malta.AI strategy states that the University will be setting up a new Centre for Applied AI (CAAI). This centre will be responsible for four main tasks, two of which are internal and the other two externals.

The first internal task is related to servicing the Faculty of ICT (FICT). Let’s not forget that FICT already possesses all the expertise we require.

The idea behind the centre is not to reinvent the wheel or to duplicate the functions of the Faculty, but rather to help it and its departments expand. Since AI researchers work in the five departments of the Faculty, the CAAI will help get them together and promote cross-departmental collaboration.

It will also actively seek both National & EU funding, thus assisting researchers to venture into new projects.

The second internal task is related to the interaction with other Faculties, Institutes and Centres.

The idea is to gather academics from all the faculties who have an interest in AI and together with the FICT researchers, create an AI community.

In so doing, they can work together towards creating short courses for the general public, credits for all the non-ICT students, promote collaborations and seek external funding for joint projects.

The third task focuses on the external academic stakeholders such as Schools, Private Educational Institution and other educational organisations.

The University should seek to get these entities on board to gain a wider reach. Because of this, the CAAI will coordinate outreach initiatives, organise AI evangelisation events, provide refresher courses to help these entities keep abreast and collaborate with them on projects which ultimately aim to boost the national capacity.

Let’s not forget that if we want Malta to become a leader in AI, we have to look beyond the University ring road and create a local ecosystem.

The fourth task deals with other stakeholders. A common criticism of the University is that it does not address the needs of the industry. This statement is not truthful, and these links are today stronger than ever.

However, we can always do more. The CAAI will focus precisely on this task and will help strengthen these links further.

This centre will coordinate outreach initiatives, evangelise about AI, launch short courses for industry, spearhead conversion masters and boost research collaborations.

A pertinent question at this stage is whether there will be any overlaps with existent structures.

The scope of the CAAI is not to step in anyone’s territory nor to build other ivory towers.

It aims to promote the sharing of resources and obtain better efficiency. No entity at University is prioritising the outreach and collaboration both within and outside of University.

The reason is that everyone is overwhelmed with work, and these collaborations, unfortunately, tend to be thrown on the backburner. Hence why we need the CAAI to champion and spearhead these initiatives.

Such an ambitious project will not be easy to achieve. It involves a lot of hard work, patience and dedication.

But if we want to be serious about AI, we have no other choice, and there is no other entity in Malta that can achieve this task apart from the University.

Because of this, I firmly believe that it is our University’s mission to help our country develop into an AI powerhouse from where companies can launch their AI projects globally.

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