The Malta Independent 7 December 2019, Saturday

Innovation is Gozo’s way forward

Justyne Caruana Sunday, 10 November 2019, 09:57 Last update: about 26 days ago

‘Innovation distinguishes between leaders and followers’: Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Inc.

 

Last Wednesday, together with Minister Chris Cardona, I was a proud protagonist in the launch of the first AI Summit to be held in Gozo, followed by the official opening of the Gozo Research and Innovation Hub by the Prime Minister. The Hub is testimony to the Government’s strong commitment to boost the island’s economy, diversify its product and give it the necessary tools to overcome its particular small-island challenges. Labour's determination to adopt long-term regional development in Gozo is directed towards building the necessary infrastructure and implementing the appropriate policies required to establish high-value added business and enterprise on the island.

 

Strategic orientation

In recent years the Gozo Ministry, together with partner Ministries and other State entities, has strategically embarked on a journey to establish Gozo as a Centre of Excellence. Barts and the Queen Mary University of London is one example. In the coming weeks their medical school campus will officially open its doors and confirm the long-term plan this Government has to attract prestigious and world-renowned entities to our shores.

The opening of Barts Medical School is only one of the incentives aimed at boosting Gozo’s economy and prestige. In fact, the Xewkija Hub followed a parallel process that will establish Gozo as the Innovation Island. It is a critical cornerstone for the attainment of this Government’s new strategic orientation for Gozo.  The Hub will be a catalyst for Gozitans to come up with tangible, workable solutions that will create quality jobs for our community and will contribute greatly to our growth and developmental objectives.

 

Sustainable growth

Actively promoting and encouraging innovation will bring about accelerated, sustainable and inclusive growth. It is only through becoming innovative, dynamic and research-driven that we can open up new markets for our businesses and compete on an international level.

Gozo’s size and particularly resilient, strong and helpful community allows for a tightly knit, well-connected tech industry that will contribute directly to the digital business landscape and pave the ground for the growth of diverse industries.

Gozo’s smallness will give the island a comparative and competitive advantage. It will become the prototype base of choice for the new digital economy for which this Government is aiming. Amongst other innovations, it will encompass AI, the Internet of Things (IoT), Robotics and Cloud. The island’s particular economic and social characteristics provide excellent opportunities for new digital economy technology prototyping and the following four examples come to mind.

 

AI and tourism

These days, most tourists book their holidays online. AI and Machine Learning provide opportunities that encompass both client interfacing and back office interactions. Personalisation, Chat-Bots, user experience management augmented and virtual reality product presentation, conversations and engagement on the back-end are a few examples of back office interaction. Gozo’s popularity as a tourist destination provides an excellent testing ground, particularly for small and medium sized operators who seek to counter AirBnB competition as well as the seasoned e-tourist systems through the provision of smart tourism services.

 

AI and the elderly

Care for the elderly in society is a challenge in the demographic progress that has vast implications and we are facing a reality where it is now difficult to find sufficient numbers of skilled workers to work with the elderly. It is important that older people live within the community and continue to be part of society and frailty, loneliness and health issues could be a draw. AI could be integrated in solutions in every element of care for the elderly – examples being home-health monitoring and smart devices to assist daily living. Like many other island-regions, Gozo has an ageing society and will be an excellent testing ground for prototyping such solutions in an environment that encompasses residential and elderly home care.

 

AI and climate change

AI could also be instrumental in climate change challenges in the agricultural sector. These include alien pests, poor soil quality and unfavourable crop-growing conditions. AI can be applied to help farmers analyse multiple variables in real time, such as temperature, water usage and weather and soil conditions, with such data resulting in precision agriculture.

AI will allow for the detection of diseases, pests, poor nutrition and enhanced information that will improve harvest quality. Gozo has a robust rural and agricultural sector that is easily accessible and is facing climate change, which makes it an ideal AI testing bed.

AI is also an important agent in securing a greener and more sustainable world through solutions aimed at helping economic sectors in which consumers become more efficient by using fewer resources. The smart use of transport between towns and villages is an aspect in which AI can help. One of the key pillars of the Gozo Regional Development Strategy is that of achieving an eco-sustainable Gozo. The prototyping of AI-related solutions in this sector could be an excellent opportunity due to the island’s size and versatility.

 

Public-private collaboration

Thanks to the Labour Government’s concept for Gozo as an ‘innovation island’, we will be able to respond to local and global issues through entrepreneurship and business innovation. Through small and medium-sized enterprises we can aim at the collaboration of the general public who will respond to the idea and most certainly make their own homes and lifestyles more sustainable. In order for this project to be successful we need a capable workforce and the presence of the University of Malta and the Malta College for Arts, Science and Technology on the island, together with Barts and Queen Mary University, will ensure the continuous career development of a resilient, adaptable and versatile workforce.

 

Infrastructure

The Gozo Ministry is determined to continue its active role in creating an enabling ecosystem to foster innovation and entrepreneurship with the aim of improving service delivery, focusing particularly on the island’s infrastructure, transport and connectivity. Improving the required infrastructure is a major enterprise that my Ministry is tackling as quickly and efficiently as possible. The island’s competitiveness and sustainability is intrinsically linked with sound and efficient connectivity at all levels.

New and upgraded road networks across the island are continuous. Sea links to mainland Malta are efficient and reliable. There will soon be a fast ferry service in place, a helicopter air-link and an underwater tunnel that will link Gozo with the mainland. Apart from this, the second fibre-optic cable being laid down on the sea-bed between Gozo and Cirkewwa will soon be operational and will provide secure and constant digital connectivity for investors who wish to relocate to Gozo.

The Government’s input alone cannot lead to a complete transformation of the island. Gozo is blessed with a highly educated, hard-working and innovative community of workers and entrepreneurs and I am confident that they will continue to work hand-in-hand with my Ministry and assist in the planning and decision-making levels to launch Gozo as an innovative island that is sustainable and inclusive.

 

The right side of history

Through the Gozo Innovation Hub, Labour is once again on the right side of history. Our strategy and policy direction are long-term and will be successful. Proof of this are our first two tenants: Noovle – one of Google’s Cloud 50 Premium Partners, which will focus on blockchain and AI applications, and J2 Software – a Gozitan business and Microsoft Accredited Partner.

Indeed, the Labour Government has made history in shaping Gozo’s future. While preserving the original post-modern architectural design, we now have this state-of-the-art Hub. In a proactive manner, my Ministry will continue to help our businesses stay alert to the latest trends and technologies. Gozo’s new Innovation Hub will provide them with the necessary tools to take full advantage of the new era’s opportunities. Through this ambitious project, Labour has proved that innovation is the way forward!

  • don't miss