Artificial Intelligence – robots and the apocalypse! No, not quite. There is the misconception among many people that Artificial Intelligence (AI) is all about creating humanoid robots that will replace the human workforce, error out and suddenly seek to destroy humanity.

AI is not only about robots. There is also the misconception that AI emerged during this decade, when its foundation actually dates back to the late 1950s spearheaded by the work of Alan Turing in the UK and later on the Dartmouth conference across the pond.

High expectations and poor results resulted in two AI winters in the 1970s and later on between the late 1980s and early 1990s, thereby pushing media-covered breakthroughs to the 1990s, 2000s and this decade, leading to the area becoming well known in the present time – hence the misconception.

But still, what is AI?

It’s difficult to find a single encompassing definition for it as we still don’t have a set definition for intelligence in general.

However, a holistic definition is given by The English Oxford Living Dictionary which states that AI is “the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making and translation between languages”.

Indeed, AI has accomplished a multitude of tasks in a variety of sectors, including drug discovery, facial recognition security, art creation, stock trading, self-driving cars, analysing contracts for inconsistencies, performing surgeries… the list goes on and on.

All of this is very interesting! Which is no surprise that during my undergraduate years I became very intrigued with the prospect of computers having visual perception (the field of Computer Vision) which is why I pursued that academic area further.

The national AI strategy will be formulated by a newly set-up taskforce comprising academics and representatives from start-ups and industry with a background in AI, computer science, business and law

I find the concept of building auto-nomous or semi-autonomous computer systems which can aid humanity in bettering itself, an exciting endeavour to be pursued. AI systems should not be developed or seen as a threat to us, but rather as assistive technologies which aid in facilitating human tasks and practices.

Education, healthcare, transport, agriculture, sports, entertainment, banking, legal practice and science itself could all be aided and enhanced through the use of artificial intelligence. The next evolutionary step for humanity is upon us – humans and AI working in parallel.

With all these advances occurring at a fast-moving pace, the need for national legislation and frameworks has never beenso strong.

With the field of AI gaining traction daily, the Maltese government, following suit from its success in establishing Malta as the Blockchain Island, has set its eyes on the next natural step: AI. During the Delta Summit held in September, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat announced the establishment of a new AI strategy for the country.

A month later, Parliamentary Secretary Silvio Schembri launched MALTA.AI, Malta’s vision on AI, which will work at positioning Malta among the top 10 countries in the world with an AI policy.

This process will spearhead a dialogue with stakeholders to build awareness around the key topics and issues that will inform a holistic national AI framework, analyse the impact in boosting the digital economy, build a policy that considers for ethically aligned, transparent and socially responsible AI, identify opportunities and ways to incorporate AI in Malta’s ecosystem, identify policy, regulatory and fiscal measures to strengthen Malta’s appeal as a hub for foreign investment in this sector, identify the underlying skill base and infrastructure needed to support AI, boost knowledge, talent and expertise and ultimately formulate Malta’s national AI strategy.

The national AI strategy will be formulated by a newly set-up taskforce comprising academics and representatives from start-ups and industry with a background in AI, computer science, business and law.

Our mission is to make Malta a centre of excellence for AI, review its collaboration at European level and establish a strategic foresight among others. Only then can the AI ecosystem in Malta be established.

This is indeed an exciting time for the field of artificial intelligence, industry and Malta. 

Wilbert Tabone is secretary of Taskforce.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

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