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Network News • 19-11-2020

Budget 2021 – adventures into AI

Author: George Mangion
Published on Business Today 12 November 2020

In the budget speech, the government waxed lyrically saying it will promote innovative technologies, such as VR, augmented reality, 3D printing and quantum and high-performance computing.

The much-vaunted AI project will be continuing but little details were given on how and who are the experts leading this initiative. Perhaps TechMT will be beefed up to attract international capital funds and AI evangelists to place Malta on the map. Some may remember former prime minister Joseph Muscat gave a speech two years ago at the Delta conference to thousands of delegates when he talked about his vision to regulate Artificial intelligence (AI), the internet of things (IOT) in an all-encompassing regulatory framework.

In his mindset, Malta had just about climbed the slippery slopes of the blockchain regime and was in an adventurous mode to tackle the next mountain of AI.  Undoubtedly, this is a technology that USA tech giants pour billions of dollars annually in research and development. It is an open secret, that government is keen to be seen helping innovation and would like to see Malta becoming a jurisdiction that attracts talent from all over the world.

Artificial intelligence and robotics are two “overnight successes” in advanced economies that have been decades in the making, and their intersection will soon change a multitude of industries. The evolution of smarter AI and more-versatile robotics has helped both technologies to push past repetitive tasks to take on adaptive and more intelligent applications. In the coming years, the result will be nothing short of a revolutionary paradigm shift.

AI technologies will continue disrupting beyond 2020 and become even more widely available due to affordable cloud computing and big data explosion. The gargantuan task was taken on board by Hon. Silvio Schembri, being Economy Minister for Financial Services, Digital Economy and Innovation.  At a press conference in Singapore, he spoke about the country’s plans for assembling a new task force in an ambitious mission for Malta to become one of the world’s leading AI nation.

How can Malta gain from the wave of popularity that is gripping the ubiquitous sector of robotics? The answer is found in the impending age of smarter robotics – these will certainly have a profound impact on traditional manufacturing; for instance, our health sector will soon make use of robotics to allocate medicines to patients and assist in useful operations taking place in the operating theatre.

AI thrives best by combining large amounts of data sets with fast, iterative processing and intelligent algorithms. This allows the AI software to learn automatically from patterns or features in that vast data set. It is trendy to read on the latest AI topics in the mainstream news.  It is no exaggeration that, AI has become a catch-all media term that refers to any computer program that automatically does something.

Many people make referrals to AI without actually knowing what it really means. There is often a public debate on whether it is an evil or a panacea for humanity. Put simply one may explain, that in Malta this technology will in the near future spearhead novelties in the manufacturing sectors and create interesting scenarios in areas of productivity, safety, service, transportation, land registration and police records.

More will be revealed in the near future when driverless cars will become fully functional and slowly enter into the mainstream. Autonomously driven cars and drones are both forms of advanced robotics, and they will pave the way for more specialized services that will speed productivity.

They will impact every area of our lives.  As was the case of the internet revolution, some of the originalities will happen in a gradual, evolutionary way; albeit some will happen in a sudden, revolutionary manner. To delve deeper into the subject, one may mention that apart from AI there is its cousin – Machine Learning (ML), and its sibling – Deep Learning (DL).  One may actually think they are all of the same stable but in fact, they are different.

To start within AI and the Internet of Things (IOT) are inextricably intertwined, with several technological advances all converging at once to set the foundation for an AI and IOT paroxysm.  As stated earlier, AI involves machines that can perform tasks that are characteristic of human intelligence. Typically, it includes things like planning, understanding language, recognizing objects and sounds, learning, and problem-solving.

It goes without saying that the learning process involves feeding huge amounts of data to the algorithm and allowing the algorithm to adjust itself and improve.

To give a simple example, machine learning has been used to make drastic improvements to computer vision (the ability of a machine to recognize an object in an image or video).  In order to achieve this, the process may involve gathering hundreds of thousands or even millions of pictures and then having humans tag them. For example, humans might tag pictures that have a cat in them versus those that do not. Then, the algorithm tries to build a model that can accurately tag a picture as containing a cat or not as well as a human.

In its simplicity, one may then conclude that once the accuracy level is high enough, the machine would have “learned” what a cat looks like.  On the other hand, we cannot forget to clarify Deep Learning processes.  This is one of many approaches to machine learning.  It was originally inspired by the structure and function of the brain, namely the interconnecting of many neurons.

Having explained the jargon, one may take a deep breath and pause for air.

In spite of its limited resources, PKF privately launched a training lab called “bitpod” concept. This is a virtual place for informal discussions among practitioners, engineers and IT enthusiasts can network. They can discuss topics on the cosmic subject of this technology.  It is a non-profit organisation, intended to help connect entrepreneurs (mainly start-ups) to people, programming engineers, and other enthusiasts across the AI, Blockchain and robotic fields.

Whether you are looking to connect, learn, share, or work, bitpod offers a selection of opportunities to network with other start-ups thus this may help you scale the slippery slopes of early-stage development. It is undoubtedly true, that in other countries such initiatives qualify for sponsorship by government agencies.

The top champion is Israel, which habitually offers financial and logistical help to accelerator labs focused to nurture growth among start-ups. And once the pandemic is over, will the private sector be ready to give its share to help TechMT develop this ambitious niche?

Success will place us among the front runners in technical innovation and help make Silvio Schembri’s ambitious vision a reality. It will spearhead his adventure bequeathing the nation with an artificial intelligence legacy.

Author: George Mangion
Published on Business Today 12 November 2020
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