The Netherlands is in danger of losing its good position in the field of artificial intelligence (AI). As a result, knowledge is lost and dependence on superpowers such as China and Silicon Valley is increasing, scientists warn.
Self-driving cars, smart phones, robots in healthcare: artificial intelligence is everywhere. And the developments are going really fast. If the Netherlands wants to continue to play a role in this, it must have enough in-house knowledge. But things go wrong there.
In the space of a year, the Netherlands has fallen from fifth to fourteenth place on the 'AI Readiness Index' of Oxford, which records the extent to which national governments use the potential of AI. Science financier NWO recognizes the worldwide struggle for AI talent. “The Netherlands is faced with a choice: will we let AI come at us or will we help shape the revolution?”
Five past twelve
NWO says it is opting for the second option and is presenting a national research agenda for artificial intelligence, which is supported by the entire field (alpha, beta and gamma). The agenda describes what is involved in the development of an AI algorithm or AI system. So not only the technical aspects, but also the interaction with people and society.
“It is not five to twelve, it is five to twelve,” says professor Inald Lagendijk, expert at TU Delft in the field of AI and chairman of the research committee's writing committee. According to him, it is high time for action, even though, as far as he is concerned, it is late.
The Netherlands is still in reasonable shape as a small country. What are we good at?
“For example, we are good at machine learning, the development of algorithms and techniques that computers can use to learn. But also in teaching ethics. Take a self-driving car as an example. You can teach them the traffic rules, but there are also norms and values that are less easy to impart to a system. ”
Why is the Netherlands lagging behind?
“The quality of research on AI is not declining, it is still quite high. But other countries are speeding up and daring to invest more. There is a serious talent race going on. China and the US, but also neighboring countries such as Germany and Sweden offer much better working conditions and working conditions. ”
Starter package “At large American companies, starting scientists earn more than a professor. And then they also get money to buy a house in the city. In Germany, a start-up package of five million euros is available for each of the 30 new professor positions in the field of AI. Such offers are completely unthinkable at Dutch universities. Then it becomes difficult to attract good people and to keep them. ”
As a country, you cannot be good at everything. Is it bad if the Netherlands should surrender something in this area?
“AI has a major influence on society, politics, economy and science, so you have to focus on that. If our productivity decreases, knowledge is also lost. We cannot train future generations, because there are not enough scientists left. You can already see that in the student stops at AI and IT programs. There is a huge range of interested students and a huge demand from the market, but we cannot cope with that wave now. ”People-oriented“ If we do not invest ourselves, we will no longer have the knowledge to handle AI responsibly. We are then left to the whim of foreign parties such as China – where the government has a big finger in the porridge – and the US – where commercial companies such as Facebook and Google make up the service. Europe wants to take a different path, where technology is people-centered and the ethical side of AI is also considered.
Are we already following the facts?
“Think of Facebook and comparable platforms, which are entirely in American hands. We have twisted little to say about it, but they do have an effect on our society. It also plays a role in other domains, such as the discussion about the security of our networks. We are now mostly dependent on Chinese and Russian services such as Huawei and anti-virus software Kaspersky. ”
What is the value of this agenda?
“He must combat the fragmentation of the AI research field and give direction to the government and companies: in which areas can they work together and what is the Netherlands going for? It remains of course paperwork, we must ultimately turn the words into action. Several initiatives have already been started, such as the Strategic Action Plan for AI and the Dutch AI coalition, in which the cabinet, the business community and knowledge institutions work together. ”
What do you want from politics?
“We need 150 million euros in private and 150 million euros in public funds per year if we want to make efforts that are comparable to neighboring countries. I don't know if we're going to get that. Intensive consultations have already been held with MPs, State Secretary Keijzer of Economic Affairs and Prime Minister Rutte, and this will continue in the coming months. But it is certainly not a race, we have no guarantee that anything will come. ”
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