Amsterdam is becoming an AI capital

A combination of top talent, strategic investment and partnerships between multinational corporations, researchers and startups have turned Amsterdam into a hotbed for AI. It’s little wonder that the city is hosting World AI Week, which features cutting-edge events focused on artificial intelligence for more than 15,000 attendees. Leading up to the event, StartupAmsterdam caught up with some of the people leading the local scene. 

With AI, trends aren’t really trends

Jasper Wogum, CEO of BrainCreators, which helps clients automate processes with machine-learning technology, doesn’t think AI is subject to trends in the same way as other industries. “I don’t really believe there are any trends in AI itself. There are trends around AI,” he says.

Continuing, he explains that, “Machines can now learn knowledge and skills because we teach them, and we teach them from data sets. This is a pretty generic concept. So, in AI itself, and machine learning, there aren’t really ‘trends’ of stuff that’s suddenly possible. It’s more that the business world suddenly realises there is a very real application for this and those are the trends we see emerging and disappearing again.”

BrainCreators Jasper Wogum TedX

Jasper Wogum speaking at TEDx

In the coming years, he also believes AI will play a larger role in various industries and fields. “We’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg. We will see a lot more [AI] in video surveillance, safety inspection and anomaly detection for different industries. Theoretically though, with the real AI, the algorithm function, I think the revolution we’re waiting for is a new form of machine learning, particularly deep learning, where models get better performance out of less data.” 

Encouraging people to trust AI

Though AI has the potential to vastly improve people’s lives, particularly when it comes to medical care, gaining the trust of a public worried about safety and job losses is difficult. There is also a need to explore the morality of using AI and making sure it has a positive effect on society. 

For Mark-Jan Harte, CEO of MedTech company Aidence, big discussions are required for this technology to progress. “When can we trust AI systems? What rules do we need around that?” he asks. “The European Union has brought out some statements about the ethical uses of AI. Also, in our field, the medical field, there are official associations creating position papers on what is required to use AI in an ethical way, when can it be used autonomously and when can it not. So that’s very important going forward, to reap the maximum benefits.”

He also thinks autonomous AI has the potential to dramatically improve our lives, but again, its use requires serious inquiry. “Right now, with self-driving cars, we see them as a tool, a helper for the human driver. But I think the real benefit will only be realised when we have systems you can trust to function autonomously. But that issue raises loads of questions. How do we create that robot? What level of reliability should it have? Who’s to blame if something goes wrong? How we do prevent bias? Things like that.”

If we don’t ask these questions and fully explore the implications of AI, there’s a chance of missing out on the advantages it can bring. “I think in the next year, we’re making the move from [AI being] a supporting system for people to an autonomous system,” Mark says, “but there’s a very significant risk of that not happening because we are not capable of expressing what the criteria are…and that leaves a lot of potential benefit on the table.”

AI as a force for good

When people think of artificial intelligence, they might think of the way Netflix recommends movies or a chatbot gives advice. But Ulrich Scharf thinks AI will increasingly be considered a force for social good. As the founder and managing director of Skilllab, which uses AI to help refugees succeed in the labour market, he thinks technology has the capacity to transform our world for the better. “What we are most excited about is how you see more and more organisations figuring out how AI can be used in creative ways to help on social issues,” he says.

Skilllab team

Ulrich Scharf, second from left, meeting with the Skilllab team

“Most of the use of AI we’ve seen so far has been based in the field of efficiency, automation and all of these fields. And now, we see slowly in the background, a wave coming of organisations, universities and non-profits using AI in creative ways to solve issues that before, were not solvable.”

In the coming years, Scharf thinks AI will also make a tangible difference in the lives of people around the world, in large part by cutting the cost of helping those in need. “AI allows us to provide certain services at scale, at a very low cost,” he says. “That’s the core power of this technology. It’s not that it allows us to do new things…it suddenly allows us to do things that were beforehand very expensive to do. Now we’re able to serve millions, if not hundreds of millions, of people without much additional cost. So, I strongly believe that there’s going to be fantastic cases in the next ten, twenty years to serve people that would otherwise never be able to benefit [from AI].”

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