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Exclusive interview with Roland Jakab, President of the Artificial Intelligence Coalition in Hungary

Roland Jakab, President of the Artificial Intelligence Coalition talks about how the coalition makes people more aware of technology.

László Palkovics, Minister of Innovation and Technology, presented Hungary’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) Strategy in September. He reported that the strategy, developed by more than 270 member organizations of the Artificial Intelligence Coalition and more than 1,000 experts, defines the basics of the strategy, its technological focus areas and various projects. Based on the strategy, Hungarian society and its economy need to get ready for the fact that this technology is coming, he added.

Can you tell us more about the Artificial Intelligence Coalition (AIC)? What is it? What are its goals? 

The Hungarian Artificial Intelligence (AI) Coalition was founded at the initiative of the Ministry of Innovation and Technology (ITM) under the Digital Success Program with the aim of providing a professional platform for stakeholders in business, research, academia and government in the field of artificial intelligence. The AI Coalition, which has 270+ members and 1,000+ experts, operates with the ultimate aim of implementing a national AI Strategy, which it drew up together with ITM.

The key objectives of AIC are to put Hungary on Europe’s forefront in the area of AI developments and make it an important reference point in the global AI community. It is also critical to strengthen the competitiveness of domestic enterprises through the extensive dissemination and utilization of AI-based developments, as well as facilitate the participation of Hungarian startups and SMEs in AI development activities in partnership with large enterprises, universities and international partners and users of AI-based solutions. The government should be actively engaged in developing the local AI ecosystem by systematically utilizing the national data asset pool and providing adequate, regulated and effective access thereto.

Various actions have been taken for the sake of AI evangelization, including drawing up an AI map of the local AI ecosystem, organizing the AI Challenge to educate 1 percent of the population about AI and setting up a directory of local AI use cases and data-exchange market platforms. We also organized the very first interactive AI exhibition in Europe, along with some permanent AI exhibitions, and prepared a Global Study on national AI strategies.

How is the AIC making people more aware of technology? 

Another large-scale initiative is the AI Challenge, which originated in Finland. The idea is to get 100,000 Hungarians, that is, 1 percent of society, to complete a basic AI course. Hungary took up the challenge as well; what’s more, we took it one step further, namely by planning to reach out to 1 million citizens to make them aware of the benefits and effects of Artificial Intelligence. The nationwide campaign is set to disseminate key information about educational programs and use cases.

We would like to make people realize that tech can make their lives easier, whether it comes to developing personal competencies, improving healthcare, or performing customer-service tasks. It can also make their jobs more fulfilling, as AI can take over boring, repetitive tasks.

Our own basic AI course, developed in Hungary, launched December 1. It offers a learning path for participants, meaning that after completing it, you can continue on if you want to dig deeper. It has interactive features and is set to be constantly improved along the lines of continuous tech development.

What is the AI revolution and why is it so important? 

The data economy might fuel growth in the upcoming years at unprecedented levels. This is great, as economic development is no longer subject to natural resources but rather brainpower. This way, countries like Hungary have the chance to excel and make it big on a global level.

Tech development is bound to result in better healthcare, personalized education, faster internal corporate processes and smoother execution of customer-service tasks. Harnessing the power of AI equals huge GDP growth. It would be a mistake not to jump on this bandwagon.

The bottom line is, though, that AI will end up however humans shape it. So, it is solely our responsibility to determine in what direction it evolves. In this regard, the latest European Parliament recommendation is more than relevant; it foresees that future laws should be made in accordance with several guiding principles, including: a human-centric and human-made AI; safety, transparency and accountability; safeguards against bias and discrimination; right to redress; social and environmental responsibility; and respect for privacy and data protection.

High-risk AI technologies, such as those with self-learning capacities, should be designed to allow for human oversight at any time. If a functionality is used that would result in a serious breach of ethical principles and could be dangerous, the self-learning capacities should be disabled and full human control should be restored.

What is Hungary’s AI strategy? 

As a result of the cooperation between the Ministry of Innovation and Technology and the Coalition[HTL1]  Hungary’s AI Strategy has been prepared. Thanks to this, gross domestic product and SME efficiency are set to soar by 15 percent and 26 percent, respectively, within the next 10 years.

Additional objectives are to offer society large-scale educational and awareness programs to help adjust to an AI transformation, help a for-profit approach take root in research processes, support responsible management of national data assets, and find effective responses to challenges posed by automation.

According to forecasts, by 2030, an AI adoption rate of 11.5 percent in the southern region of Europe, including Hungary, could generate an additional HUF 6.4 trillion of GDP. AI is also set to have an impact on pretty much every segment of our lives, which will bring about societal changes as well.

Given that future impact, Hungary’s government decided to draw up an extensive strategy that sets goals up until 2030 and outlines a related action plan extending to 2025. It is important to emphasize, however, that the Strategy needs to be regarded as a living document and reviewed at least every two years due to rapid technological development and a growing number of experiences related to the spread of applications.

The strategy assigns priority to the possibility of supporting specific sectors that could be developed by AI-based applications the most effectively: manufacturing, agriculture, healthcare, public administration, logistics, transport and energy.

Apart from those focus areas, moonshot projects, so-called transformative programs, have been identified that deal with long-term issues with lots of potential, such as self-driving vehicles, AI-supported healthcare and personal competence development, a data wallet that takes data self-management to a whole new level for citizens and businesses alike, automated public admin procedures, smart energy solutions and climate-driven agriculture.

How can Hungary’s AI strategy aid the labor market and affect people in their everyday lives? 

The Hungarian economy must be prepared for the AI transformation, and that requires raising awareness among citizens and businesses.

The labor market will be altered to a great extent, with up to 900,000 jobs affected by 2030, according to a recent PwC study. It means that both employees and employers need to do their own homework. Our package of measures aims to set up an educational and institutional framework that can accelerate the widespread adoption of AI-driven solutions. As a result, an AI-ready workforce and the large-scale use of AI by SMEs are set to create better-paying jobs and boost overall competitiveness.

The secondary use of data must become commonplace, so regulated trade in corporate records will allow domestic businesses to profit from their own data sets as well as develop solutions based on third-party records.

Corporate cooperation with research is expected to be taken to a whole new level. The newly established National AI Lab is commissioned to facilitate applied research, whereas the AI Innovation Center’s task is to help SMEs adopt tech in large numbers. The latter effort will also be backed by the AI Coalition, as it serves as an engine for the building of ecosystems and markets. Thanks to targeted training programs, at least one-quarter of the workforce is bound to find higher value-added jobs. Getting things done in customer service should also be automated in 60 percent of cases nationwide.

The need for reskilling is a burning issue; that’s why we launched the AI Academy, which gathers relevant courses and information on how you can educate yourself in the field of AI.

Where does Hungary stand in the international sphere of AI? Is there any Hungarian invention, current project, or the like? 

Hungary ranks among the countries with average AI readiness in the EU. In many other member states (e.g., Austria, Belgium, Greece), an AI strategy hasn’t even been adopted yet, even though the Commission gave a deadline in 2019 for that purpose.

Our priority is to forge cross-border relations. Accordingly, we are in close contact with the Swedish RISE and the British Turing Institute, while regional cooperations with V4 countries are also high on the agenda.

There are already some great examples of the use of AI in Hungary. One of these is ZalaZone, a state-of-the-art test track for self-driving cars.

How can AI better society as a whole? 

Healthcare can be revolutionized, as more and more customized medicines and treatments will become available thanks to AI. Medical research will also speed up as a result of it. The proliferation of telemedicine will create access to medical services in remote areas as well, and the automation of image scanning will free up capacities so that doctors can spend more time on treatment. Smart assistants can set appointments and prescribe routine medicine, thus cutting red tape.

Education can be spiced up with AI-driven teaching modules, and learning paths will be guided by smart assistants that can help citizens choose the ideal next step in their career.

By automating a bunch of internal corporate processes, staff can serve more customers, thus generating more revenues, and more resources will be left to deal with the customer experience and improve the customer journey.

Precision-based agriculture will reduce the use of fertilizers to the minimum, and smart grids will cut energy consumption, thus helping to fight climate change.

Can AI help us fight coronavirus? 

It certainly can, and it actually does in many ways. First off, AI accelerates medical research, which is crucial to getting a vaccine as soon as possible. Detection, including early warning signs and diagnostics, is another key area where AI can bring tremendous benefits. BlueDot alerted its customers about the danger of the outbreak nine days before the official WHO warning came out, and it also predicted correctly by what routes the virus would spread. CT images can be scanned by AI-driven solutions more effectively as well (e.g., BioMind’s invention).

Prevention can use AI a great deal too, with contact tracing being a top beneficiary. Another use case here is predicting the amount of resources (ICU beds, medicines, staff) available at medical facilities as the pandemic evolves.

AI is also being applied as part of response measures, such as smart assistants for customer service that take the burden off the shoulders of doctors when it comes to setting up appointments or prescribing routine medicines.

Are there AI skeptics or people that are afraid of increased technology? What would you say to them?

Technology is here to make our lives easier. Yes, indeed, it is changing everything around us, and we need to adapt. This requires a whole new approach from all of us: Life-long learning will be more relevant than ever before, and constant reskilling will be key.

Some jobs will be gone for sure, but new ones will emerge as well. In fact, very few jobs can be automated completely; a bunch of tasks will be, but those are repetitive tasks that humans never necessarily liked anyway. This way, we’ll be able to focus on more creative and fulfilling duties.

AI will be more like “assisted intelligence,” where humans will be assisted by machines, and their work will complement each other.

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