Although some AI technologies have been around for more than 50 years, the availability of immense amounts of data, new algorithms have led to a huge breakthrough in this area recently. Today, the development of AI is among the priorities of the European Union and Lithuanian policies. Lithuanian Artificial Intelligence Strategy indicates the creation of a national AI research centre and infrastructure as one of the major steps for implementation of the Strategy.
“This shows that such centres are needed to bring together the ideas of researchers from different fields and to gain greater synergies from the cooperation of business and academia”, says Agnė Paulauskaitė-Tarasevičienė, the Head of the newly founded Kaunas University of Technology (KTU) AI Centre, Associate Professor at the Faculty of Informatics (IF).
According to KTU Rector Prof Eugenijus Valatka, to continuously develop and strengthen the field of AI in a purposeful way, it is very important to not only promote the development of research in the field of AI but also to integrate AI knowledge into the study process.
“AI technologies are penetrating many areas of our lives, so the need to develop professionals with AI skills is growing exponentially. We hope that the work of KTU researchers in the field of AI, the available potential, and the mobilisation of the specialists will ensure that the KTU AI Centre will be visible on an international scale”, says Prof Valatka.
The AI Centre will aim to meet the needs of business and society, to develop and integrate AI solutions that allow solving various problems in industry, medicine, and the public sector.
“Cooperating with business partners, we will seek to contribute to the development of the Lithuanian AI ecosystem. There will also be a strong focus on stimulating young researchers’ – undergraduate and postgraduate students – interest in AI. We want to encourage more active involvement in problem solving and research”, says Dr Paulauskaitė-Tarasevičienė.
AI development in Lithuania is too slow
The Head of the KTU AI Centre, Dr Paulauskaitė-Tarasevičienė notices that although there are numerical analysis, robotics and mechatronics research centres efficiently functioning in Lithuania, we do not have a national AI centre. Such countries as the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, already have research centres working specifically on AI and the latest technologies in the field.
“Business representatives also talk about the need for an AI research centre – they lack information about the potential of our country’s AI researchers, their work, competencies and skills. There is a need for systemised contact information about who is working in what AI research areas”, says Dr Paulauskaitė-Tarasevičienė.
According to her, in society, there is a lot of talk about AI, robots and process automation, so it is natural that more and more companies are interested in AI applications and are looking for solutions on how to use AI systems in their activities.
“This shows that we are moving in the right direction. Business understands the importance of AI – it streamlines processes, increases productivity, which raises their competitiveness in domestic and foreign markets. However, compared to other European countries, the integration of AI in the Lithuanian public and private sector is too slow”, Dr Paulauskaitė-Tarasevičienė is convinced.
According to her, the biggest obstacles are the rather slow recognition of the need for new technologies (especially in the public sector companies), insufficient AI infrastructure, large investments required to implement and maintain AI systems. In addition, there is a shortage of AI specialists.
“To change this, the first important step is to educate the public about the possibilities and potential of AI, as well as to train skilled specialists needed for the future”, says Dr Paulauskaitė-Tarasevičienė.
KTU’s research teams working in the AI field are among the strongest in Lithuania
A few years ago, KTU developed an Artificial Intelligence Strategy, the goals of which are inseparable from the National AI Strategy and correspond to the purpose of the recently established KTU AI Centre. In response to market needs, last year KTU introduced the first in Lithuania undergraduate Artificial Intelligence study programme.
These studies have continuity on the master’s level. In addition, the compulsory Artificial Intelligence study modules are included in computer science, mathematics, automation, and other engineering studies.
“The University has also developed two free online AI courses. Together with partners – Reaktor and the University of Helsinki – we offer an introductory AI course Elements of AI and a fundamental Artificial Intelligence course for the KTU community”, says Dr Paulauskaitė-Tarasevičienė.
She emphasises that AI competencies are acquired not only by the increasing number of students but also by the employees of the University every year.
The new KTU AI Centre will be responsible for the development of the University policies and coordination of the activities related to AI development, including the promotion of projects and services, non-formal education, and the representation of the University in national and international organisations and working parties.
Another very important function of the Centre is to ensure smooth external and internal communication on KTU’s research and experimental development (R&D) activities, AI research areas and research teams working in these areas, which would help connect enquiries with an exact contact person able to answer them.
“For effective implementation of AI solutions, the KTU AI Centre has a large and highly competent team of AI researchers, all the necessary AI infrastructure, which will soon be supplemented by the AI laboratory for young researchers. Judging by the scientific publications and completed projects in the field of AI, KTU’s contribution and potential of researchers are probably the strongest in Lithuania”, says the Head of the KTU AI Centre.
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