They invited me to write National AI Strategy. So I proposed to …

Have you ever thought about how artificial intelligence would really be at most useful for your country? I was “forced” to do so by fate. Therefore, let me briefly depict what I think should be the key invest areas in AI court; How to bring artificial intelligence even to rural areas? But first of all, how to make world-class AI here, ideally in local language?

Sometimes you dip into things you even don’t know how. This was the case also one day when a strange email landed in my mailbox. Don’t take me wrong, I really have experienced a lot of bizarre pieces in email communication. But this one was really strange. It was an invitation from the National Artificial Intelligence Forum that they would like me to join the team of experts assembled to create the National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence (AI) for our country.

At first, I wondered if this was not a joke from one of my friends. But since April 1 has been already pretty quite away, I started to seriously consider that someone really means it. “Why me?” I asked myself. After all, strategic documents of this kind are not my daily job and I don’t know much about national AI programs of other countries either. However, the authors of the email seemed to anticipate my embarrassment and they left nothing to chance. In the invitation, they explained that the expert team will combine 1] academic environment, 2] representatives of domestic AI research companies, and 3] business representatives who already use real AI technologies today. I quickly realized that I owed my invitation to the third group. So I exhaled in relief … and confirmed my participation.

If I decide to devout my time into something, I try to make it at least of some quality. Therefore, immediately after accepting the invitation, I started studying the AI strategies of other countries. However, I was not looking for ready-made measures that could be “borrowed”. Rather I tried to dive mainly into parts where those papers discussed ways of assessing the country’s initial situation. For I realized that for country strategy, I was just about to participate, it will not help to “invite” the measures chosen by US or China. Thus sooner that I took part in any round of measures brainstorming, I had crystallized the key AI assumptions in my head. These were (euclidean) premises I decided to defend as the starting point of group work. I am sure there could be a lot of “meditation” on the topic of AI maturity, but I tried to put my postulates into as few points as possible:

  • The country for which we are going to prepare an AI strategy is not one of the current AI leaders, nor even the leaders in AI research. Therefore, at least to start, we will have to build upon already existing foreign solutions. (it does not rule out research focus as such into the future, I just mean that we do not have enough of our national research to draw from there)
  • Although AI is a wide spread buzz-word, what it really means and how it can be used in business, is known only to limited communities of people, mostly associated in university cities. Even in mid-sized cities that do not have a university or in the countryside, no one (including a local pastor, bartender or mayor) has a clue about what true nature of artificial intelligence is and what its applications are. In other words, AI awareness is very unevenly geographically distributed across the country.
  • Most countries have a very specific language environment. If a relatively few people speak English in given country, recently available, foreign (NLP and other AI) solutions will not work well. If the implementation of AI in a country were to be based on English solutions, it would be very risky both in terms of quality of solutions and due to (possible) resistance by end-users. (If you are to understand a conceptually difficult thing, it is not very helpful if it is also primarily described in a foreign language that you do not speak)
  • The whole world runs primarily on open-source AI solutions. Even the most advanced companies publish (on GitHub) their libraries for AI solutions.
  • Let’s think for a moment. How to maximize the effect of AI on local companies in the country? I admit, this is also a bit of a personal belief dilemma, because any answer to this question can be suppressed with phrase “who knows, how it really will be”. Nevertheless, I personally believe that AI will reach its maxim, when even ordinary, small businessmen will embrace it.
  • I came to the previous conclusion  after also considering the fact that large, multinational companies will take care of the implementation of AI in their local subsidiaries. Large (abroad reaching) local companies will be pushed by competition from those other countries. The only group (in the first stage) that will not be guided to this are the national medium and small entrepreneurs. That is why, in my opinion, these should also be the focus areas of the national implementation strategy.
  • For SME companies, in addition to the language barrier, the “technological abyss” will also be important. Cloud environment is an inevitable prerequisite for most AI solutions design & maintenance today. However, it might be both costly and secondly unrealistic for a small business, as they cannot sustain their own full FTE Data Engineer and have no way to borrow a shared one either.

Enough of preparation, I police myself, and plunged into discussions about the initial strategy proposals. As it turned out later, the above three groups did not necessarily have a balanced representation in the expert team. The Task Force had to, therefore, often choke through proposals that ignored even several above mentioned premises simultaneously. Nonetheless, we ferociously adhered to the golden rule of brainstorming: every well-formulated idea would be included in the long list of possible measures. (knowing that we would have to subject those to more scrutiny later). Sometimes it was really painful for people in practice to withstand the tirades and their teeth were often clenched. After listening to all perspectives, I decided to nominate following draft proposal for the National AI strategy:

1] Create a hosted cloud solution at universities or one of the state institutions (based on a model like Amazon Web Services), as an extension on top of any of the commercially viable cloud alternatives. Using the central hosting/management of this repository, offer a ready-made, all-inclusive symbolically priced packages for AI solutions, which for end-users (and institutions) also include maintenance realized through experts paid by that central cloud provider. Simply turn-key cloud environments.

2] Localize some of the most wanted Udemy / Udacity / Cloudera / … artificial intelligence courses and basic Machine Learning and Deep Learning skills. Purchase a mass license for such localized courses for 100,000 residents in a given country and grant access to these courses for a symbolic amount (e.g. 5 EUR / person).

3] Create a moderate national community for Opensource solutions in the AI area. Collect and localize into national language information on new AI modules and their reviews by foreign experts. Create conditions for Slovak (research) teams to actively participate in the development of individual branches of these solutions.

4] Select 5-6 most important industries in SME segment of companies. Recruit at least one relevant large business per each area to provide local, anonymized data. Organize Hackathons with the participation of international teams, with aim to develop specific solutions for AI use in the industry and based directly on local data. Set conditions for participation in Hackathons so that the developed solutions can be freely picked-up and implemented in any company registered in the country and operating in selected industry.

5] After the implementation of Hackathons, for each industry recruit at least 4 volunteers from within already existing companies to be become pioneer beneficiaries of AI. In those pioneers Central AI agency, via means of a state grants, implements ready AI solutions (from Hackathons). In case of higher interest of the volunteers for pioneer status, a lottery with oversight a notary will be drawn to decide whom the grant ought to be awarded. Participation in the grant is subject to the approval of the company elaborated about in measure 6, see below.

6] Realize roadshows in the regions and district towns where AI and its concrete, ready-to-use solutions (acquired through Hackathon) will be presented. Representatives of pioneering companies with AI implemented under Measure 5 will be presenting at the meetings. instantly available, plug-and-play solution, free of charge and even in local language. If measures 4 + 5 + 6 are overly successful, repeat this procedure for other sectors.

What do you say? Does that make sense to you, or would you suggest something completely different? Well, I will not bore you with which  my actions had gained enough “support” for the final draft of the National Strategy. Some passed, others did not survive the fight and prioritization. But that’s not the point of this blog, anyway. In the sense of his unfinished blog title, I wanted to give you some food for  thought: What are the inputs for AI strategy in your country where you live? Would you suggest similar solutions for you homeland or do you have much better ideas? How to bring artificial intelligence to the rural village habitat? But first-mostly: How to build world-class AI and (preferably even) in the local language? So that ordinary John and Ann can take benefit of it important process as well.