For most people, terms like ‘Artificial Intelligence’ and ‘machine learning’ still boast a high sci-fi level. Machines that learn and make decisions, such as self-driving cars: it often still sounds like ‘something in the movies’. But AI is getting real, as more and more light is shed upon its possibilities. Just as important as it is to research new technologies, is informing people and creating room for discussion.
Flemish AI program
Last year in June, a new impulse program was started up in Flanders by the Flemish Minister of Work, Economy, Innovation and Sports Philippe Muyters. Based on preparatory work executed by organizations Agoria, Voka and Imec, three projects were identified: cyber security, personalized health and Artificial Intelligence. This last one was the first to kick off.
The committee steering the AI project consists of members of the academic field, of the government and of organizations that represent a broad range of companies. It is led by Barco’s Senior VP and General Manager Healthcare Filip Pintelon. Yearly, 32 million euros are invested in the Artificial Intelligence project, which is divided into three pillars:
- Research: around 150 researchers from the Flemish universities are developing AI demonstrators for future challenges in our society, in close collaboration with industrial partners. Those societal challenges are in healthcare, industry, and government.
- Implementation: seeks to raise the number of Flemish business effectively deploying AI solutions by 50%.
- Awareness: strives to raise awareness and create a positive perception of AI among Flemish companies, people and stakeholders. A dedicated initiative is directed to the ethical questions and concerns when deploying AI.
AI in Flanders?
Is AI already being used today in Flanders? In a way, yes. Many companies, amongst which a lot of startups and consultancy firms, use the technology in their internal processes, for example for financial transactions. Not many companies have crossed the bridge to including it in their actual products yet, though Barco is taking its first steps by diving into the possibilities AI can offer with its skin imaging device Demetra.
On the other hand, Flanders has already earned international renown with its research into Artificial Intelligence. Every year, Flemish researchers enter the top-3 of worldwide AI competitions. The new impulse program aims at connecting this academic excellence with innovative developments in business environments. In that way, the door can be opened to inviting everyone to the AI discussion, expert or not.
One year into the program
Along with the many opportunities that AI offers, just as many challenges arise. They concern ethics, data sciences and involving machines in complex decisions, or introducing AI in devices that are not normally connected to the cloud (think of cars or refrigerators). There is also a big difference between AI-enhanced devices communicating with each other versus with human beings.
The “AI in Flanders” program has been running for almost 1 year. Where are we now?
The research program has already yielded a set of interesting demonstrators, with immediate application. Many of them are quick responses to the Covid-19 health crisis for which the research program’s priorities were redefined, so it could also focus on alleviating the pressure on health workers. Some researchers are now part of a European Covid-19 taskforce. Some examples:
- AI experts have developed a pioneering method for the analysis of CT images of lungs, in light of research on the effect of Covid-19 on MS patients. The result is already being used worldwide, accelerating the sorting of Covid patients and relieving the workload in intensive care units.
- New methods have been developed for the analysis of large “single-cell” datasets, which allow to map the immune responses of Covid patients. This research is part of the Human Cell Atlas project, which aspires to map the details of every cell in the human body.
Also in other fields, successful results have been achieved:
- An award-winning project has deployed AI in the early detection of epilepsy, with a minimal amount of false alarms.
- Tests are being done with data from Belgian windmill parks, using smart methods that combine sensorial data and insights from grouped machines. The goal is to achieve higher energy returns, and a longer lifetime of the windmills.
The implementation program is already involving 200 businesses with concrete AI initiatives, and the awareness program has engaged with more than 2.500 businesses and stakeholders on the concrete opportunities of AI for their organization. Also, a ‘Data and Society’ knowledge center is created to promote awareness, education and resolve ethical questions on AI.
To accelerate access to education and training on the various aspects of radiology, an AI Academy has been launched, that provides an overview of and access to all AI courses and trainings as they are becoming available in Flanders. These courses range from PhD-level to short, continued education type offerings.
Filip Pintelon elaborates: “Artificial Intelligence is starting to mature, even though knowledge about what it is and its possibilities does not always reach a wider public. The Flemish AI project wants to make knowledge about the technology accessible, by investigating opportunities and practical applications. A big opportunity for Flanders.”
Watch Filip Pintelon elaborate on the possibilities of AI in a video by Kanaal Z, along with an example of its possibilities for our skin imaging system Demetra (in Dutch). This is the first of a series of 10 short updates on AI developments in Flanders.
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