Placing AI at the forefront of Malta’s vision
After more than 6 decades of existence and several cycles of hype and decline, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is now becoming an increasingly disruptive force. Thanks to an explosion of available data, a tremendous increase in computing power and more powerful algorithms, capabilities of AI systems have vastly improved, sometimes beyond human performance, and applications are much easier to develop and deploy.
We encounter AI on a daily basis, from predictive algorithms defining what content our social media feeds display on our screens to search engines curating the information we are searching. Yet the technology is still nascent and developing, with many AI advancements still in their early stages.
In the Prime Minister’s speech to the United Nations last year, he highlighted that: “A way forward that Malta advocates is the harnessing of new technologies, which pose endless possibilities. We are currently in exciting technological times: with the lightening pace of current technological advance, each incredible piece of new innovation could hold a new solution to a problem we may have been persisting with for decades, from advanced robotics and Artificial Intelligence, to 3D printing and the Internet of Things.”
The Prime Minister was one of only 11 global leaders to reference AI in the United Nations speech. He wanted to highlight that Malta has taken a clear stance that it will embrace technological innovation as a way to drive progress. He has previously indicated that he wants Malta to take a lead and become a disrupter and a trendsetter, rather than a follower. By doing so, Malta has firmly established itself as a leader in disruptive areas such as Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT), laying out a roadmap which various countries across the globe are looking to emulate and follow.
Following on from the Government’s success to make Malta the “Blockchain Island”, we are now in a position to explore AI as a niche that is expected to accelerate the development and transformation of Malta’s economy and society across the decades to come.
In November 2018, Hon. Silvio Schembri, the Parliamentary Secretary for Financial Services, Digital Economy and Innovation laid out the Government’s vision to put Malta amongst the top 10 nations with the highest impact national AI programme.
This is an ambitious task, but one we are happy to take on. I have been asked by Government to Chair the Malta.AI Taskforce which will work on developing Malta’s National AI Strategy. The Taskforce members include a diverse set of brilliant minds that include leading local and international entrepreneurs, thought leaders, academics, strategists and other experts in the field working together to realise this ambition.
The Strategy will aim to maximise the social and economic benefits brought about by AI. Risks will be mitigated by ensuring that no parts of society are forgotten, with a strong legal and ethical framework being designed to enhance business and citizen trust in AI and its application.
We will look to draw on Malta’s unique, distinct advantages and use its size as an opportunity, rather than a hindrance. The country will continue its strong tradition of using regulation as a key differentiator, by developing a robust and innovative legal and ethical framework to support its ambition and build trust and transparency in the way the technology will be deployed.
The ethical framework which Malta is developing will take account of the Draft Ethics Guidelines for Trustworthy Artificial Intelligence issued in December 2018 by the EU High-Level Expert Group on AI. The principles and values articulated in the guidelines are based on fundamental rights articulated in EU Treaties and the Charter of Fundamental Rights. The Asilomar AI Principles will also guide the philosophy of Malta’s National AI Strategy, placing ethics, values, privacy and the common good at the heart of AI adoption.
Last December, the European Commission presented a coordinated plan prepared with Member States to foster the development and use of AI in Europe. Collaboration is a key focal point of the Strategy we are developing. We are a small country and therefore welcome the opportunity to work with others – be they international organisations, other countries, established tech companies, start-ups or researchers – the message we want to put out is that we welcome proposals on how we can work together.
Last week during a meeting with Irakli Beridze, Head of the Centre for AI and Robotics at the UNICRI within the United Nations, we explained Malta’s vision. He outlined that “Malta is developing a vigorous and very sophisticated AI strategy, which will clearly benefit its citizens and can serve as a model for many countries.”
We are currently drafting a high-level AI Policy which will be presented at a public consultation workshop on the 21st of March. This policy will set out the areas of focus that will underpin the strategic objectives and considerations that will drive our vision. We encourage experts and interested parties to participate. Wide-ranging input is being gathered from various stakeholders in business, education and public policy to co-develop detailed thoughts on the priorities set out.