Accelerated digitalization in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic means Europe needs to move even faster in deploying tools to help develop an AI-ready workforce. A new AI education platform can help address this need by providing access to resources across Europe’s borders.
In the last decade, there has been an increasing recognition among business leaders, academia, and politicians that advances in AI have the potential to transform many aspects of European society.
From manufacturing and transport to communications and healthcare, AI is expected to change how products and services are produced and provided across nearly every sector of the economy.
“AI is going to have as big an impact on our society as electricity,” Nokia board chair Risto Siilasmaa has said.
There is also recognition that European-level cooperation is essential in order to capitalise on Europe’s considerable strengths in AI and “fully exploit the potential of AI for the benefit of the European economy and society”, as stated in the 2018 European AI Landscape report from the European Commission.
Many companies across Europe have already begun adopting AI technologies in their operations. A recent study carried out by Ipsos for the European Commission found that 42 percent of enterprises currently use at least one AI technology, while roughly 25 percent already use at least two types at AI. Furthermore, the study found 18 percent of enterprises plan to adopt AI technologies in the next two years.
The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the digitalization trend for companies, consumers, and workers. Tasks and processes that had previously been slow to be digitalized transitioned quickly out of necessity. This broader openness to digitalization due to the pandemic has also served as a catalyst for AI adoption.
At the same time, however, the pandemic revealed the need to increase cooperation and knowledge-sharing across Europe in order to develop new tools and applications more quickly and efficiently. It also demonstrated the importance of preparing Europe’s workforce - both present and future - with the skills needed to drive an AI-powered European economy.
Difficulty finding workers with AI skills
Even before the pandemic emerged, there was a growing awareness that Europe was facing a skills gap in terms of workers’ ability to operate in AI-enabled environments. The same Ipsos study detailing AI adoption rates also identified three key internal barriers.
In addition to concerns about the costs of adopting and adapting processes to AI, the number one challenge slowing AI adoption among European companies and organizations is difficulty finding and hiring staff with the right skills.
Country-specific AI initiatives
Fortunately, there are a number of national initiatives designed to help develop and spread AI competence to a wider cross-section of the European workforce. AI researchers in Finland, for example, developed a free online course, Elements of AI, to help educate citizens on the basics of AI.
Developed as a joint initiative between the University of Finland and tech firm Reaktor, the course is now available in nine languages and has educated more than half a million people across Europe since its launch in 2018.
Germany’s Plattform Lernende Systeme, meanwhile aims to promote AI dialogue within society as well as collaboration in research and development. Among other things, the platform manages a continuously updated “Map on AI”, providing an overview of AI applications, research institutions, and transfer centres in Germany
While these and other national initiatives exist across the EU, the AI training landscape currently suffers from geographic and topical segmentation. There are a growing number of AI training programmes at European universities. However, coordination across borders remains a challenge.
The Education Space on the AI4EU Platform
But a new platform set to launch in coming months, hopes to help address these challenges that will make it easier to share AI knowledge and resources across Europe’s entire AI ecosystem. Specifically, the Education Space on AI4EU On-Demand Platform initiative will be a “one stop shop” for anyone seeking AI-related information, technology, services, or experts.
The new platform is one of the latest initiatives stemming from the AI4EU consortium, which was established in January 2019 as a European AI ecosystem
The Education Space on AI4EU is expected to make it easier for working professionals, university students, and teachers to share and access information about AI education and education and training initiatives across Europe.
Workers and organisations seeking to upskill or reskill with increased AI competence will be able to easily find AI education resources. Whether short online courses or more comprehensive training programmes for professionals, users will have a wealth of information readily accessible to facilitate their ability to get the AI skills they need.
Equipping young people for life-long learning
Similarly, university students across Europe will also benefit from the AI4EU Education Space as they look to incorporate AI into their studies. As they enter the workforce in the coming years, they will need to have AI knowledge that meets the needs of their chosen field, as well as an understanding of AI’s broader impact on society.
The Education Space on the AI4EU platform will also be an invaluable resource for secondary school teachers tasked with shaping young people’s understanding of AI. Introducing young students to AI concepts and computational thinking before they embark on higher education or employment can help equip them life-long learning with a framework to help them thrive in an increasingly digital Europe.
Organizers hope the Education Space will not only help European citizens share resources and best practices in AI education, but will also facilitate cross-border learning and coordination.
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