Thousands turn out for World Summit AI as Netherlands unveils €192 million AI plan

Mona Keijzer at World Summit AI 2019
Mona Keijzer discusses the Dutch cabinet's AI investment plan for 2020 at World Summit AI. Oct. 9, 2019Photo: Randi Cecchine for NL Times

With reporting by Randi Cecchine and Zack Newmark.

The third edition of World Summit AI is being held in Zaandam on Wednesday and Thursday. Two hundred leaders in the artificial intelligence field gather to discuss their experiences with and visions for the future of this technology. The summit is expected to attract some 6 thousand visitors.

Prince Constantijn, the Netherlands' startup and tech ambassador, opened the event on Wednesday. According to the Prince, around the world people are skeptical about AI, worrying that they will lose their jobs to the technology, that it can be used in the wrong way. Which is why people in the AI field need to take a responsible attitude so that the tech can be "applied for the good of humanity", he said. "Amsterdam is really turning into a dynamic AI hub", he said, welcoming the guests. "Make AI a force for good, enjoy your stay and ignore the weather."

The far-reaching impact of artificial intelligence was one of the main topics of conversation at the event. "AI will not just change the way we make our money, it will change the way we live our lives," said State Secretary Mona Keijzer of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy.

Keijzer was speaking on stage during a panel with Neelie Kroes, former European Commission Vice President and the transit minister under Ruud Lubbers. A night earlier, Keijzer announced that the Netherlands will invest heavily in artificial intelligence in the coming years. This year the government is already pushing 64 million euros into AI, and that amount will double next year she said in a statement. This money must first be used to increase knowledge in AI, and to ensure that human rights are safeguarded in the development of the tech. The government is therefore commissioning a study into the impact of AI on public values. 

In an AI action plan presented on Tuesday, Keijzer said she wants to urge Dutch companies to accelerate when it comes to the development of artificial intelligence. She therefore plans to make more funds and financing available to startups and SMEs on this front. According to the State Secretary, public and private investment must grow to 2 billion euros over the next seven years in order for the Netherlands to remain competitive with other AI countries. 

"AI is already radically changing our world", the action plan reads. "We must ensure that we are not outlived by this technology, but make it work for us. With this coordinated government approach, we lay the foundation for a good contribution from AI to our society, jobs and income, and we ensure that the Netherlands remains an innovative leader."

European nations need to partner together to take on a Europe-first and ethical approach to AI, said Kroes, who concluded her role as the European Commissioner for the Digital Agenda in 2014. This is to counteract the Trump administration's America-first approach, she said. "We are the biggest economic power on Earth," she pointed out in reference to the Dutch and Maltese politicians on stage with her. "It's not [enough] talking about Netherlands or Malta, but how can we combine all these strategies."

Kroes discussed with her panel that taking a stand on the ethics of AI is important, but working under the mindset of a stronger Europe is more important considering the current state of global politics. She wants to see EU companies that might otherwise be competitors working together to advance Europe's standing in the AI industry. She said that would mirror the strategies of companies in the semiconductor space, while pointing out that AI will similarly affect every business sector as semiconductors did.

Consulting firm Accenture predicts that AI will have a 14 trillion dollar impact by 2035, affecting 16 industries, especially work in asset management, financial crime detection, healthcare, supply chain, revenue, forecasting, and customer engagement. Introducing AI into society has not been easy for many organizations because of the concerns over the technology's unknown capabilities. Marc Carrel-Billiard, Global Senior Managing Director of Accenture Labs, agreed with Constantijn that many people are hesitant or even scared AI. That is why Accenture doesn't use the phrase 'artificial intelligence', instead calling it 'applied intelligence' or 'digital intelligence.'

The 200 AI leaders spearheading the discussions at the Summit include representatives from TomTom, Amazon, Google, Baidu, Facebook, Alibaba and Uber. Sara Porter, founder of InspiredMinds and another speaker at World Summit AI, said in a recent interview: "Word Summit AI brings together the entire ecosystem in AI. A multidisciplinary perspective is now critical in the application of AI in business, society and every aspect of our lives. World Summit AI has addressed this by introducing the global leaders from government, business, academia, technology, science and the startup/emerging tech community - it is this perspective that makes World Summit AI the most important powerhouse of a summit this year."

Neelie Kroes, Mona Keijzer, Silvio Schembri, and Aimee van Wynsberghe at World Summit AI 2019
Neelie Kroes, Mona Keijzer, Silvio Schembri, and Aimee van Wynsberghe at World Summit AI 2019. (photographed l-r) Oct. 9, 2019Photo: Randi Cecchine for NL Times