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The present for the future

Slovenian experts among the global elite in developing artificial intelligence

In 2021 Slovenia will host the Web Conference, the prestigious global gathering that each year brings together on the highest level researchers, developers, users and companies in the field of the world wide web. The conference, which is the primary and most important event in this field, enables and fosters discussion of the development of the web, the standardisation of web-related technologies and the impact of these on our society and culture. One of the exceptionally important technologies in this context is artificial intelligence (AI).

In recent times AI has become an increasingly hot topic. A lot is being written about it and enormous amounts are being invested in its development. Some regard it as extremely positive but others fear and caution against it. The fact is that the field of AI is still too new and therefore not the easiest thing to grasp, especially for the lay public. So what exactly is AI? One definition states that it is a field of information science that includes diverse interdisciplinary knowledge. It involves the capability of computers to function as if they were intelligent, meaning that in part they mimic human intelligence. And human intelligence means the ability to learn, generalise, plan, solve problems and draw logical conclusions. Scientists and developers are therefore working towards AI becoming more akin to human intelligence, so the field is interwoven with psychology, neurology, mathematics, logic, philosophy and other sciences.

Analysts predict that the market for AI will soon reach US$ 89 billion. The majority of earnings currently come from the applications market, but projections clearly indicate that AI will transform all industry. This of course opens up many questions and considerations, but scientists assure us that there is nothing to fear. In their opinion, robots will not enslave us but will help to make many tasks easier – at home and in various jobs. A recent survey by the PwC revealed that as many as 82% of managing directors on the global level are convinced that in the next five years AI will cause a major shift in the way their organisations operate. Two thirds of them believe that the impact of artificial intelligence will be even greater than that of the internet.

Interconnection of the web and AI

The range of application of “all-knowing” AI is vast. When you are on the internet, computers record your every single click, and AI monitors and analyses the collected data. A website appropriately supported with this technology can know a lot about you even on your first visit: where you live, whether you have children, what your financial worth is, what interests you and how you resonate. If you add social networks, AI also has access to data on your emotions and feelings. Our smartphones constantly announce where we are and also who we are with, i.e. whose telephones are interacting with ours. With the right combination of a sufficiently large selection of digital data it is possible to predict, with a high degree of probability, diverse scenarios and even to steer decisions. Here scientists emphasise that AI technologies are still only in their infancy. Nowadays they can handle challenges that a person would need a few seconds to solve, but dealing with more complex and involved issues is still well beyond the scope of such technology. Given the high degree of probability with which AI predicts various trends, AI is already used in numerous areas, for instance on stock exchanges, in medicine, in the media, in the administration of cities and factories, in transport, farming, law and sport.

Slovenian scientists involved in AI for over four decades

In Slovenia the leading organisation in this field is the Jožef Stefan Institute (IJS), which began researching AI back in 1972 and set up a dedicated laboratory a few years later which is still operating today. The systems developed there are being used by numerous well-known companies, such as Microsoft, the British Telecom, The New York Times, various banks and press agencies. Among the most sought-after tools are those for automating the analysis of content, which extends beyond linguistic boundaries and thereby identifies events around the world in real time much more easily (as seen with the company Event Registry). They are also used by the Bloomberg media organisation. The leadership of the laboratory includes one of Slovenia’s most famous scientists, Marko Grobelnik. Grobelnik is the cofounder of five Slovenian companies associated with AI (Quintelligence, Cycorp Europe, Event Registry, Qlector, and SolvesAll). Such companies are the foundation for the very existence of the research group at IJS, says Grobelnik. They serve to facilitate the conditions for researchers to stay in Slovenia, and partly make up for the difference in earnings compared to earnings abroad. In his career, spanning more than 30 years, he has tutored numerous students who today occupy important positions at notable universities and technology giants around the world. His research is currently focused principally on the issue of how, with the aid of AI, it is possible to predict the development of certain events in society, and how to explain the reasons underlying them.

Text by Ana Kraševec
Source: Sinfo