Interview with Xavier Bettel in Happen

"Artificial intelligence for the benefit of all"

Interview: Happen (Lena Martensson)

Happen: Why did the government decide to develop this strategic vision for artificial intelligence?

Artificial intelligence (AI) is no longer just a theoretical concept or a research field — it has become a reality and part of our daily lives. The amount of data available is multiplying with incredible speed, but it is only valuable if we can extract useful information from it and use it to provide concrete solutions to real issues. AI is the key for doing this. For the first time ever, we can tap into global intelligence and use it to solve local problems. Our government is committed to steering the development and use of AI in a direction that benefits our citizens. Luxembourg has a unique ability to become a living lab for real-life AI applications. The country can also become a forerunner for AI regulations that put people first. We want to see AI weave smoothly into the fabric of society, improve the lives of all citizens and strengthen us as a nation and member of the global community.

Happen: You consider this strategic vision as a national priority. What does this mean in concrete terms?

We want to actively shape the way artificial intelligence is used in our country. Luxembourg's commitment to AI goes well beyond just supporting applied R&D projects. We want to be at the forefront of this development by optimizing the national data market, facilitating the development of skills, boosting investment and collaborating across borders. We believe that we can make a difference on a global scale. As a diverse, innovative nation, we can define what impact this technology will have on human rights, on people's lives and on our democratic values. This vision is not only a one-off strategy. We see it as a first step to developing a holistic policy vision that will be updated and further defined on a regular basis. An inter-ministerial coordination group, led by myself, will regularly assess the state of play and implementation of the strategic vision. We are advised by a committee of experts in law, science, technology, ethics and humanities, and plan to invite members of the public to participate through public policy consultations.

Happen: Do you target specific sectors, or does the vision consider all kinds of Al developments?

AI will have an impact on a wide range of sectors, and individuals can benefit from it through assisted living, decision-making, health care, mobility and much more. If artificial intelligence is used to treat the huge amount of mobility data that is collected every day, for example, it can help make travel safer, support traffic management and provide useful information on the most efficient modes of transport. AI is an essential tool for setting up smart cities offering sustainable solutions, such as optimized building efficiency, waste management and energy consumption and storage. AI-supported diagnoses and treatment procedures will also bring preventive healthcare to the next level and enable the implementation of personalized healthcare — a major Luxembourg priority. In addition, AI has the potential to simplify citizen-government interactions by providing access to efficient, transparent and customer-centred public services.

Happen: Artificial intelligence can seem frightening, especially as future developments could have a negative impact on humankind. How can we ensure that this influential technology will not be used to the detriment of human values?

AI is indeed at the brink of becoming generally accessible and applicable in industry as well as in other aspects of society, such as education, environment and art. As with any other high-potential technology, the use of AI will have far-reaching consequences and experience some growing pains. Integrating AI into existing workflows, for example, may raise new questions related to working conditions, employment law and labour relations. The increased automation of previously manual tasks brings challenges, but at the same time, there is a great potential to create new jobs. These will probably require a completely different skillset, however, which could potentially lead to a polarization of the labour market. The inclusive labour market policies that our government pursues are vital to ensure that nobody is left behind. Another challenge is that in many cases, AI services rely on the use of personal data. Cybersecurity and data privacy are already at the top of the government's priority list, and they obviously remain critical in the context of Al. The government's human-centric strategic vision makes it very clear: the individual should be at the centre of all AI services that we support in Luxembourg. After all, we do not encourage digitalization and new technologies for their own sake, but for their capacity to improve our daily lives. We aim to raise awareness and help citizens develop a deeper understanding of AI in order to transform them from passive consumers to active users of AI-related products, services and technologies.

Happen: As you just mentioned, we know that as a result of AI, new jobs will emerge while others disappear. What is your vision of training and skills development? What kind of profiles do you want to attract to Luxembourg?

Over the past ten years, Luxembourg has attracted excellent researchers and talents to build a solid foundation for AI expertise. As the use of this technology is now increasing in various professional fields, we need to anticipate the future needs for skills and invest significant sums in lifelong learning and specific digital and AI-related training programs. The aim is to help companies and their employees, as well as the unemployed, successfully adapt to the changing labour market. In spring 2018, the government launched the Luxembourg Digital Skills Bridge initiative that addresses these points. As a next step, we will map the national education offer to ensure that AI is integrated into other disciplines such as law, business, human sciences, environment and health. We are also looking into best-practice methods regarding how to reinforce excellence, retain AI talent in Europe and attract more women to AI studies.

Happen: What investments has the state already made for developing AI-related projects, and what is planned in the coming years?

We have invested heavily in international connectivity, IT infrastructure and innovative projects for the past 15 years, and often engaged in strategic partnerships. The Luxembourg Commercial Internet eXchange (LU-CIX) encompasses a network of six data centres and provides the groundwork for high-speed, high-volume data transfers, blockchain initiatives and cybersecurity measures. The country's high performance computing initiative strives to open up access to extensive computer resources and expertise to a broad range of players. 'The intention is to lower the entry barriers for AI-based products and services by mutualizing costs and pooling scarce skills. We also want to create synergies between new public investments in R&D and innovation and infrastructure related to AI activities — for instance, by launching initiatives similar to the 5G pilot zones that will be emerging in Luxembourg over the next few years. 5G will enable more connectivity in all aspects of life, such as home, mobility, health and industrial production. Our R&D investments largely focus on applied research with international multidisciplinary centres of excellence in the fields of biology, cybersecurity, networking and trust. The National Research Fund provides funding for public-private research collaboration on topics like advanced robotics, digital manufacturing, improved design tools and enhanced perceptual capabilities in AI systems. It also supports technology sharing and encourages the creation of research-based spin-offs. In general, we want to develop new partnerships with leading firms to grow the number of AI solutions and skills accessible to the Luxembourg ecosystem. One example is our ongoing partnership with AI-expert NVIDIA, which has led to the creation of a joint AI laboratory in Luxembourg.

Happen: Luxembourg is not an island. How is the country's cooperation with major technological partners in neighbouring states structured? What are the contributions of each party?

Luxembourg has indeed a long-standing tradition of active participation in new EU initiatives, and I want to reiterate our commitment to investing in European AI-related collaborations. We intend to actively support high-quality networks of European AI research centres and take part in key community and cross-border initiatives, such as AI-powered Earth observation or the development of a shared database of health images. Luxembourg aims to promote and adopt international standards in the field of open data and facilitate the interoperability between data catalogues. Another priority is to analyse the feasibility of sharing and building AI expertise in strategic development cooperation countries. We also want to learn about best practices from countries with mature AI-related projects and establish research-based collaborations. However, the ambitions of international partnerships go even further than this. The new 2030 general development cooperation strategy, focused on the sustainable development goals of the 2030 agenda, envisages knowledge transfer on AI solutions in order to contribute to eradicating extreme poverty and promoting sustainability. This powerful technology is bursting with opportunity — what this means exactly and what we do with it is up to us.

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