The Malta Independent 23 July 2019, Tuesday

‘We want an AI-powered government’, Silvio Schembri says as AI vision launched

Albert Galea Thursday, 21 March 2019, 12:23 Last update: about 4 months ago

“We want an AI-powered government”, Parliamentary Secretary for Financial Services, Digital Economy and Innovation Silvio Schembri said as he launched a high-level policy document which will provide the basis for Malta’s Artificial Intelligence strategy for public consultation.

Schembri said that Malta’s EU membership, English-speaking prevalence, tech-savvy population, strong IT infrastructure, and policy-accelerated programmes were perfect for the country to become the ultimate “launchpad” for Artificial Intelligence technology.

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The consultation document, which was formulated by the Malta.AI Taskforce which was appointed last year, is built on three major pillars and three strategic enablers.  The pillars are: Innovation, start-ups and investment; public sector adoption; and private sector adoption, while the three enablers are: education and workforce; legal and ethical framework; and infrastructure.

As part of the investment, start-ups and innovation pillar, the document reads that Malta will seek to attract and develop talent whilst also driving investment and incubating an innovation ecosystem that will allow the AI sector to flourish.  Schembri in fact noted that attracting talent to support technological development like this is one of the most challenging things to do worldwide.  He added that Malta therefore must make sure to keep all home-grown talent, but also attract talent from abroad.

In the public sector, the government will “take a lead in showcasing the benefits that can be brought about by AI by developing and running pilot projects across several key thematic areas”, the document reads. Schembri said that the government aims to offer better services, improve the social and economic wellbeing of citizens and businesses, and enhance the internal operations of the public sector.  The sectors which may see AI reform, the document notes, may include healthcare, education, traffic management, citizen services, tourism, and elderly care amongst others.

In the private sector, the government will also commission research to study whether this sector is indeed ready to adopt such AI technology.  To accelerate progress in adopting such technologies the government will seek to work closely with the private sector through the public-private partnership (PPP) model where possible, the document reads.  Schembri said that the government wanted to enable companies to integrate AI technology into their day-to-day work and would encourage businesses to up-skill their workforce.

These pillars would be made possible through three key strategic enablers, Schembri said. 

In terms of education, the document reads that – amongst other initiatives mentioned – the eventual AI strategy will set-out to equip, re-skill and up-skill workers in every sector of society. “Malta’s educational system will also need to evolve and adapt to the requirements of the Fourth Industrial Revolution”, the document reads.

Malta has, through the gaming and blockchain industry, already proven that it can be a global leader in the building of a legal and ethical framework that can apply to an emerging sector like this, Schembri said.  This framework will eventually look to develop and supplement the already strong regulatory frameworks that are in place with AI specific provisions to address the key challenges and opportunities that AI presents, the document reads.

Finally, the government, with the support of the private sector, will need to take an active role in designing a future-proofed technology “roadmap” and data infrastructure that will allow AI technology to flourish. The document reads that the government will embark on assessing the current state of the key-related enablers to this sector, and then build a detailed roadmap setting out the actions, initiatives and investments required to make Malta more attractive across all these areas.

The document is open for consultation until April 22.

The Malta.AI Taskforce is chaired by Wayne Grixti and is made up of various experts in the field, these being: Alexiei Dingli, Angelo Dalli, Jackie Mallia, Abdalla Kablan, Dylan Seychell, Godfrey Vella, Francois Piccione, Emanuel Darmanin, and Antoine Sciberras who are all members, and Wilbert Tabone who is the taskforce’s secretary.

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