In January 2020, the Council of Ministers has approved the National AI strategy of Cyprus (Cyprus, 2019a). It focus on the following priority areas:
- Cultivating talent, skills and lifelong learning;
- Increasing the competitiveness of businesses through support initiatives towards research and innovation and maximising opportunities for networking and partnerships;
- Improving the quality of public services through the use of digital and AI-related applications;
- Creating national data areas;
- Developing ethical and reliable AI.
Concerning improvements to the education in AI, the policy report mentions among others the creation and upgrade of higher education programmes in AI, the development of reskilling and upskilling opportunities for the labour force and an overall extension of societal knowledge in the use and application of AI technologies.
Education reforms will aim to support new technological skills, particularly in STEM subjects and will provide support to teachers to improve their education methods. Besides improving technological skills, the Cypriot Government emphasises the importance of integrating soft skills in students’ curricula, such as interpersonal communication and problem solving skills. At higher education levels, Bachelors and Master programmes will be created in the field of AI in collaboration with the Higher Education Quality Assurance and Accreditation Agency of Cyprus.
To ensure that education programmes are adapted to the rapidly changing needs of the labour market, the Cypriot strategy recommends the creation of tailor-made programmes for further training and lifelong learning for the workforce. The introduction of Massive Open Online courses (MOOCs) in AI will be considered as an effective tool to educate citizens in general. More flexible and personalised trainings could target the working population and respond to the new labour market challenges. In this perspective the Cyprus Human Resource Authority (AnAD) can provide information and incentives to employers for upgrading the workforce skills and competencies in digital and AI-related fields.
From the lab to the market
The Cypriot Government devotes particular attention to policy actions fostering research and innovation, including the creation of a Centre of Excellence for applied research in AI, and the formation of new financial support and funding schemes. The establishment of a special Task Force for Researchers is also considered to help the AI Expert Group in developing AI policies.
A vibrant start-up ecosystem in AI will be fostered through the development of an AI accelerator programme, to support the start-up and growth of AI business ventures. This programme will provide expertise in developing AI solutions, and will help firms accessing expert communities. Besides creating opportunities to team up with other firms and research institutions, and facilitating the access to flexible and effective financial funding, this programme will also provide dedicated support to testing and open data environments (including regulatory sandboxes). The growth of the AI start-up ecosystem will be encouraged through national funding programmes and state incentives, which will be complemented with European funding programmes (e.g. Horizon2020).
The Cypriot Government also commits to encourage the use of AI in the public administration by means of automatic decision chains to accelerate administrative processes. Introducing more AI-related applications in the public sector will increase transparency and foster citizens’ trust in the state and institutions.
Regarding networking, the Cypriot strategy highlights the need to encourage partnerships with leading international organisations to increase the level of research and innovation in AI. This will be achieved by setting up new collaboration models. Among others, Digital Innovation Hubs (DIH) will be expanded and meetings will be organised with foreign countries to obtain guidance and good practices about successful AI applications. These collaborative meetings will also aim to assess how public-private partnerships can be improved in the future.
At national level, Cyprus has already established several DIHs such as the CYRIC Digital Innovation Hub, the KIOS Innovation Hub, the Robotics Control and Decision Systems (RCDS) Lab at the University of Technology, and the Entrepreneurship Centre at the Cyprus University. These DIHs are active in various market segments (e.g. agriculture, health, construction, transport, manufacturing and energy) and in a wide range of technological areas, including AI, big data, cloud computing and cybersecurity. The AI Expert Group considers the creation of a (virtual) AI DIH with dedicated AI research programmes that could serve as a platform where the scientific and business community could access and share knowledge.
To determine in which domains collaborations are most favourable, the AI Expert Group can make use of the recently published Competitiveness report of the Council of Economy and Competitiveness (Cyprus, 2019b). This report provides a general overview of the structure and performance of the Cypriot economy, highlighting the comparative advantages, weaknesses and risks to the economy, including recommendations on how to address them.
The Cypriot Government will increase the international visibility of the country to attract AI experts from abroad. To do so, the Cypriot Government considers setting up mobility programmes for experts between research centres in Cyprus and abroad. In addition, the AI Expert Group recommends to create an inventory of researchers and experts in the field of AI in order to assess the country’s needs and areas in which to attract foreign talents.
The Cypriot Government will develop a legislative framework to ensure the availability of data with transparent regulations, in particular on data protection. This legislative framework will take into account EU directives on the free flow of data and general data protection and will facilitate the interoperability of data. To this purpose, it is important that the new legislative framework enables digital services to use up-to-date and high-quality information, while taking into account the protection of personal data.
With respect to ethics, the Government of Cyprus is currently developing guidelines to ensure ethically sound and reliable developments in AI, i.e. by defining measures of transparency, responsibility, privacy, equality, diversity and safety among others. The developed guidelines should preserve human rights and social values. To coordinate the development of ethical guidelines, the Cypriot strategy advocates the creation of a National Committee on Ethical and Reliable AI. This Committee will continuously and systematically monitor and analyse issues related to the use and development of AI technologies and will provide recommendations for legal and ethical reforms. To successfully conduct this exercise, the Committee will take into account the Ethics guidelines for trustworthy artificial intelligence as prepared by the High-Level Expert Group on AI.
Cyprus is also active in developing international standards for AI to foster and facilitate industrial and economic developments in this field. The Cyprus Organisation for Standardisation (CYS), will establish a National Commission constituting of technical experts from the public and private sectors to monitor and evaluate the work of International and European Committees on AI. It will also be responsible to apply and introduce AI standards in all sectors of the Cypriot economy.
The Cypriot Government commits to create a data ecosystem with guidelines and regulations about data interoperability and data exchange agreements. Respecting the anonymisation process during data collection is of particular importance in data exchange agreements, as to prevent the leakage of personal data contents. Overall, the national data environment will be reinforced through the further development of the National open data portal, and the creation of a National Research Data Portal. The National Open Data Portal is an API interface that provides access to a large data repository of the public administration. In the same vein, the National Research Data Portal will provide access to data produced by research institutions. In general, both initiatives aim at fostering the availability of open, high-quality and trustworthy data to leverage the benefits of research and development in the field of AI.
In terms of digital and telecommunication infrastructure, the Cypriot strategy recommends to improve access to analytical systems such as Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) and Machine Learning as-a-Service (MLaaS). Investing in High Performance Computing infrastructures such as to those offered by the Computation-based Science and Technology Research Centre (CaSToRC) is also considered. In this respect, Cyprus is participating in the joint pan-European undertaking for developing supercomputers (EuroHPC).
AI to address societal challenges
Climate and environment
The Cypriot national AI strategy mentions that AI can enhance the reduction of energy consumption through the optimal use of natural resources, reduce the need for pesticides by contributing to a cleaner environment, improve weather forecasting and lead to disaster prevention. In general AI aims to improve the living conditions of the modern human being in a circular and sustainable development environment. A series of initiatives are currently ongoing in Cyprus to address the climate change and create more sustainable living conditions. The Government is actively involved in the implementation of projects, co-funded by the European Commission, relating to the smart cities and smart environments sectors with dedicated projects to fight the climate change:
- The KOIOS Centre of Excellence is a pioneer in the field of supervision, control and security of critical infrastructures, which are inextricably linked to smart environments. The multidisciplinary research conducted in this centre touches upon climate change issues. The SOLAR-ERA.NET project develops an ICT platform for improving the operation, maintenance and diagnosis of solar photovoltaic systems;
- The MaRITeC-X project proposes the creation of innovative solutions in the maritime sector, based on the use of smart meters and infrastructure. The objective of the project is to develop a scientific and business centre of excellence in marine and maritime activities which will focus among others on the climate and the environment. The use of AI will be a key tool in the research projects funded by this centre.
In order to track contagions at a first stage of COVID-19 pandemic, Cyprus developed CovTracer, a pilot mobile app to targets the movements of individuals who were keeping on working under the lockdown (e.g., doctors, nurses, police officers, fire fighters, security forces).
Monitoring and future update
The national AI strategy of Cyprus will be reviewed on a regular basis to assess the policy progress and to foster the development and use of AI. To this end, in June 2020, the Deputy Ministry of Research, Innovation, and Digital Policy has launched a procurement for tender to develop an Action Plan that will detail the progress and implementation of the national AI strategy, which has been very recently concluded. The overall objective of the action plan is the preparation of an implementation plan of the national strategy for AI, based on the mandate for utilisation and adoption of innovative technologies, a broader strategy not only just from a purely technological perspective, but primarily in relation to the digital transformation action plan, so that both can constructively, maximise the perceived benefit for society and Cypriot citizens.
Cyprus (2019a). National Artificial Intelligence Strategy: Actions for improving and developing Cyprus. Ministry of Transport and Department of Electronic Communications. https://knowledge4policy.ec.europa.eu/sites/default/files/cyprus_ai_strategy.pdf
Cyprus (2019b). Cyprus Competitiveness Report. Council of Economy and Competitiveness. http://www.ecompet.cy/ecompet/ecompet.nsf/All/F1E360C5B83F4A79C225843C002E44BD/$file/2019%20Cyprus%20Competitiveness%20Report.pdf