Right at the beginning: the good question is – what can you develop to be internationally important in the field of Artificial Intelligence in a small country like Croatia? Can AI be an important growth driver for the country? Can Croatia establish itself as a leader, innovator, driver, producer of any new technology-based solution portfolio, including Artificial Intelligence? These questions are on top of the mind of every leader in every developing country we are working with. Every leader is asking the same question: “How can we be innovative, how can we lead in something and make a global presence?”. We all know that there is no silver bullet for that, but a well planned and executed strategy that involves a number of stakeholders – government, organizations, academia, and individuals. All of them should have a clear understanding of what needs to be the goal, need to have a common vision, but most importantly, need to understand how deep digital transformation is needed here to move the society forward.
Artificial Intelligence is one of those promises. The depth and breadth of its use are so broad, and the usability in many practices and verticals is so fulfilling that everyone looks at the AI as if it was a panacea, where we solve all unsolvable mysteries with a dash of AI and a little bit of good data. The most successful countries today know that one thing is to develop startups, companies, solutions, and projects that implement AI, but the best ones also know that the Government has a vital role here – creating positive legislation, investment environments and funds, good strategies, and action times that support them.
Croatia had a kind of a late start.
Being a part of the European Union, we were involved and followed the creation of the first major step toward the implementation of AI in EU Society – cosigning the Declaration on Cooperation between member states on AI. Due to many issues, Croatia was last to sign, a few months later than all the other countries (in July 2018). With that, Croatia agreed to create a National Strategy for AI Implementation – a document that we are still waiting for – and where we will address strategy, action plans, and key steps needed to move forward. In the meantime, we have experienced a strong growth of interest and activities that came from individuals, academia, and several startups that are already developing solutions and technologies that are utilizing artificial intelligence, but they also want to participate and drive EU based programs that are supporting AI. This part of the story is yet to happen, and it is a good message to other countries where potential pitfalls are and what needs to be done (more quickly, more agile) to be at the forefront of the countries that are driving AI agenda.
The big push came from the private sector – Croatian Employers Association (CEA/HUP), that has a strong working group on new technologies, including AI. A few months ago, as an input to the national strategy, they published their view on Potential of Implementation of Artificial Intelligence in Croatia, detailing the high–level view on what is the potential but also some actions needed to establish a great environment for the ecosystem that will support the AI development. If you are interested, you can find the document on their web site (HUP), here in Croatian only – but nothing you could not translate quickly using artificial intelligence.
Dawn of the change
We have a promising start for the field of artificial intelligence – a number of great new startups, that deal with the power of AI, emerged in the country. For example, Gideon Brothers is quickly becoming an international player – several global market-leading companies already recognize their visual perception based autonomous robots. Robotiq.AI is creating software robots, introducing Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to a number of companies and processes around different industries – enabling more automated work for the things that used to be boring and repetitive.
We also see many startups that are driving specific vertical industries, like AIRT that supports insurance business with the new AI–based algorithms and predictive models that calculate and recognize but also keep everyone on the same page through fraud detection solutions or VINGD which is driving their human-centric solutions toward the artificial intelligence, especially in the fields of healthcare and financial industry.
But even well–established companies that are already known for their good software solutions are starting their own AI stories: for example, SPAN, a long time Microsoft partner and Partner of the Year number of times is investing strongly in AI – the result of that investment is spin–off Bonsai that delivers specific machine learning and chatbot solutions to the market. It’s not only partners doing that; we see that trend also between the customers, as the Jadranka Group example in the hospitality industry, which successfully implemented Acquaint’s AI technology for driving the predictive experiences for a tourist in our country. As well, Acquaint implemented the same technology for one revenue management provider. And now, the Company is working to deploy the technology in other industries such as retail, transport, etc. and is engaged in IoT and edge computing projects.
Artificial Intelligence in use
Private and public sectors are already deploying solutions based on the use of artificial intelligence. It is important to note that we are not talking about massive adoption or full–scale projects that drive digital transformation, but smaller proofs of concepts, or localized use of chatbots or machine learning models. But even that is more on the level of experimentation, with a small number of notable cases like the Ministry of Justice, which is using automated speech to text to dictate documents directly into the computer and thus minimize the time needed for a specific case. And like in other countries, it’s not about massive deployment and widespread use. But those examples are the right step forward, and they are piloting the use in some critical scenarios, including healthcare.
What would be the role of platform providers?
Microsoft understands the importance of Artificial Intelligence for our future – we are investing in it, we are embedding AI in our products and platforms, but we also make sure that our investments and solutions enable others to drive this future too. We are, at first, platform providers – which means that we need to make sure that platforms that power artificial intelligence are accessible to developers and integrators that can use them as building blocks for their own solutions.
This is exactly how we work with the community of partners and individuals here in Croatia – we are a strong supporter of a number of initiatives that drive artificial intelligence – from major partners at the two most important communities built around AI in Croatia. The first one, established three years ago, is called AI2FUTURE, and it drives overall understanding and acceptance of artificial intelligence. It is not only focused on the technology and development knowledge around AI, but it also embeds and supports widespread adoption on the AI in everyday use and, most importantly, connects the capabilities of the AI with the needs of the specific industries. For more information, please look at www.ai2future.com. The second growing community is AI4GGOD, where it is all about fair use, ethics, morals and good cause use of the AI – something that is increasingly important to all of us – how we are going to use AI and what the outcomes, for us individually but also for the whole society will be. For more information, please look at www.ai2future/ai4good. Both communities have regular meetups and conferences with many activities, and Microsoft, together with other vendors, is a proud partner on many of those.
Next steps for the society
And finally, we all decided to formalize our activities and efforts through the formal organization – we call it CRO.AI, a non-governmental organization that is connecting many organizations and individuals working in the field of artificial intelligence, with common values, mission, and a vision on how they want to use AI but also what they want to develop and deploy in their own solutions. Good call for that is also the strategic direction that the European Union is giving us – there is more than EUR 2.5 billion for the next Digital Europe program in the artificial intelligence focus area.
Of course, this is not the true reason why we invest in artificial intelligence that much, but it is a good mechanism to support communities, organizations, and individuals to connect and contribute more and to have strong help in making sure that Europe is driving those focus areas as a future stronghold for the research and development in European Union. CRO.AI is currently connecting several hundred individuals and organizations, and it is quickly growing to become one of the most important driving community forces that move the future of Croatia in the right direction.
Now, this is just Croatia. We believe there is amazing potential in our countries, not only for artificial intelligence but also for the use and growth, based on many advanced technologies that are delivered today, mostly from the cloud. And the cloud is another story that drives economic value and lowers the total cost: there is no growth for the organization today if there is no use of advanced technologies. For that, we use cloud. Cloud delivers artificial intelligence. AI uses data, and that data needs to be carefully managed. This is something we are all working on, and we don’t see a better recipe for success in the foreseeable future.