The Belgian AI Week attracted 8000 attendees from 60+ countries in 56 sessions focusing on AI policies and regulations; latest technologies research and development; and citizen debate sessions throughout the five days.
The Week inaugurated FARI, which is a new AI Institute in Brussels; provided a comprehensive Belgian AI landscape including start-ups and scale-ups; introduced a trustworthy AI assessment tool for public services, health, and HR.
European AI Day was also organised as a part of the Week. Lucilla Sioli, Director for AI and Digital Industry within Directorate-General CONNECT at the European Commission shared the policy directions including regulation frameworks to be released in April. Nearly a dozen of European member states has their representatives at the event sharing strategies and focuses by the national hubs and their networks.
The Belgian AI Week, aiming at sharing concrete AI actions and projects with the public through locally anchored organizations, wrapped up with huge positive responses including an announcement to turn the week into the European AI Week from 14-18 March 2022. It was also the intention to promote cooperation between all relevant players in the field of AI in the EU. The organizers positioned Belgium as a leading player among the EU in the global AI landscape.
During the week, the audience viewed 70+ hours of streaming videos, which now turned into a rich resource of fascinating AI presentations, thematic workshops, the announcement of new research results, debates with citizen panels in the key areas of ethics, future of jobs and education, health, mobility, energy and others.
EU AI Day
AI4EU co-organised the European AI Day with the main organisers of AI4Belgium, FPS BOSA, and others under the strong collaboration & leadership of AI4EU NCP Nathanael Ackerman, who was also the main person of AI4Belgium in organising the whole Belgian AI Week from March 15-19.
AI4EU provided technical supports for the morning workshop “Meet the European AI National Hubs and Networks”, where more than 20 speakers, including CLAIRE’s coordinator Prof Holger Hoos, presented a keynote and roundtables to discuss priorities and activities in their own countries. The morning workshop also welcomed Cecile Huet who delivered a keynote outlining an overview of the EU commission's vision and strategy for AI.
A few AI4EU NCPs also participated in a session discussing the making of a global AI leader in Europe with Cecile Huet. The session focused on how the national hubs collaborate to grow the pie and not just split it. They exchanged ideas and identified practical actions and areas to focus on to develop a more coherent European-wide approach to AI that complements member states’ own actions.
The EU AI Day received supports from five EU directors and representatives, eight international AI hubs and coalitions and 12 countries including a few non-EU ones.
In a separate AI4EU session in the early afternoon, Prof Barry O’Sullivan presented "Towards a Science of Trustworthy AI", which aimed at positioning the trustworthy AI strategies behind the European policy options in the making.
AI4EU Community Manager Dr Long Pham shared a brief presentation "Uniting European AI resources with AI4EU On-Demand Platform", bringing the audience an overview about the AI4EU project together with available services and AI resources for the European AI ecosystems via the Platform, its ecosystem, and open calls.
A few hundred live audiences viewed the morning workshop while nearly a hundred people participated in the AI4EU session in the afternoon. All sessions’ recordings are available on the AI4Belgium website, including the specific link below of the morning workshop and AI4EU session.
Citizen Awareness & SMEs
The Week was also emphasizing on promoting citizen awareness and engagement via 10 citizen roundtables attracting 1000+ participants. The citizens were able to listen to, engage with and raise their questions and concerns in several AI topics including ethics, future of jobs, educations, health mobility, and energy.
“We need to get the public on board, to help citizens know more about the technology and understand the consequences for the society, the economy, and jobs,” Ackerman said in an interview with The Innovator.
Start-ups, scale-ups were those SMEs and SMB being featured in a more holistic Belgian AI landscape and promoted in a national campaign launch “AI: A Boost for Your SMB” during the week. Those stakeholders are being nurtured and supported by the whole ecosystems including academics and research communities.
One of such academic and entrepreneurs who are working on AI from Europe is the computer vision expert Luc Van Gool, a professor at both Belgium’s Leuven University (KU Leuven) and Switzerland’s ETH who has built 10 start-ups. Luc Van Gool, who was one of the keynote speakers during the week, has worked as an advisor to Toyota on autonomous cars, and, with his research teams, has served as a partner in several national and international projects, such as the EU ACTS project Vanguard, the EU Esprit projects Improofs and Impact, and the EU Brite-Euram project Soquetec.
“We are not China so the approach in Europe can’t be top-down.” Another objective is to empower Europe’s efforts. “There is so much potential, but Europe is fragmented. It is true for both Belgium and for Europe, because of the language and cultural differences,” says Ackerman. “We want to empower the ecosystem by enabling collaborations between the stakeholders, including those working on AI in different regions from Belgium and national AI hubs.”
It is also important that more private sector companies – both big and small – tap into Europe’s AI expert resources, in the academic world and the start-ups and scale-up ecosystem, said Ackermann. And technology transfers must be reinforced. “There are big gaps in what is being done in university and what is being done in the private sector,” he said. “We have to work in a way that is more open, this is a key to innovation,” he says.