In February 2020, the Latvian Government released its national AI strategy on Developing artificial intelligence solutions (Latvia, 2020). The objective of the Latvian strategy is to promote the uptake and growth of AI in the whole economy. The proposed strategy outlines policy actions in the following areas and devotes particular attention to the promotion of AI in the public administration:
- Raising the awareness of and competencies in AI across society through education reforms;
- Promoting the adoption and development of AI in the public and private sector;
- Engaging actively in national and international cooperation;
- Developing a solid legal and ethical framework for AI;
- Unleashing the benefits of a well-developed data ecosystem;
- Investing in a digital and telecommunication infrastructure to support AI developments.
The Ministry of Interior plans to spend approximately € 1.5 million on digitalisation with a focus on AI.
Improving skills and competencies in AI-related fields is essential to accelerate the speed of AI deployment, use and development. To this purpose the Latvian strategy advocates the integration of AI themes in the general education system at all levels. The Latvian Government recognises the need to raise the awareness and understanding of AI among all citizens, and in particular students, researchers and professionals in the private and public sector. Taking the example of the Finnish course on AI Elements, Latvia will develop an equivalent online course. The target audience of this course are expert level and management level specialists to help support digital transformation. Furthermore, the Latvian Government intends to prepare a National Research Programme and to reform the education system.
From the lab to the market
In terms of research, the Latvian strategy highlights that several universities and research centres are currently conducting several research projects in the field of AI. The LU Institute of Mathematics and Informatics is active in the following research strands: speech recognition, semantic analysis, image analysis, natural language analysis, computer vision and robotics. The Riga Technical University (RTU) carries out research among others in autonomous systems and robots, image and sound processing and smart sensor systems. It has a dedicated Chair in AI and Systems Engineering focusing on machine training and data mining. In addition, the RTU Institute of Industrial Electronics and Electrical Engineering is coordinating the NexIT project of the National Research Programme to foster ICT services in the public sector and to consolidate data collection and processing. Finally, Latvia’s strategy presents a range of ongoing research projects in the field of AI that are supported by the European Regional Development Fund and Horizon 2020.
The deployment of AI solutions in the industry and public administration will be encouraged through an increased pace of digitisation. To this purpose, the Latvian Government is preparing Digital Transformation Guidelines by the second quarter of 2021 with policy measures to support the digital transformation. This will include financial provisions and support programmes for research and innovation in AI. The Latvian strategy identifies priority sectors with a high potential for AI applications in the country, such as transport (Intelligent transport systems), culture, justice (AI as support for decision making and drafting legislation), agriculture (automated control), and translation. AI is also mentioned as an effective tool to create a virtual assistant platform in the public administration and to establish an efficient information system in the healthcare sector.
The Ministry of Culture plans to supplement the machine translation system with new language pairs that will increase the availability of government content, e-services, and other content. In spring 2021, a machine translation tool for Latvian-Estonian languages will be developed. A machine-translator for all EU languages is expected to be completed within two years. The Ministry of Education plans to improve skills in the field of natural language processing. The Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development plans to implement AI based proactive services model for citizens (based on real life situations and persons’ socio-economic profile to proactively offer services).
Lastly, several value chain ecosystems are currently developed by the Ministry of Economics. Three strategic value chain ecosystem pilots are being implemented – on Smart materials, Biomedicine and Smart city - to enhance state-of-the-art research and innovation in these fields. These priority areas are based on Latvia’s Smart specialization strategy. The ecosystems bring together innovation actors from private, public and academic sectors. AI is a key enabling technology to facilitate the implementation of above-mentioned ecosystems.
To foster innovations in AI, research and development should not be conducted in isolation but rather in collaboration, by bringing together competencies from national and international organisations. The Latvian Government encourages joint projects and increase opportunities for public-private partnerships in AI. To increase Latvia’s international visibility and to attract foreign investments, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is considering establishing a platform to present Latvia’s achievements and good practices in AI. Networking opportunities are further channelled through Latvia’s Digital Innovation Hubs, being the Ventspils High Technology Park, the Latvian IT Cluster Association and the Institute of Electronics and Computer Sciences.
As the proliferation of AI technologies brings along new regulatory challenges, the Latvian Government calls for the development of a normative framework to define what is ethically and legally sound in the field of AI. Latvia is relying on its current national legislation and on EU Directives defining regulations on product safety (Directive 2001/95/EC) and liabilities (Directive 1985/374/EEC). However, the government recognises the need to provide more clarity on these issues, in particular on AI goods and services. Hence, it will work on a new legal environment for AI and will set up regulatory sandboxes to facilitate testing of AI concepts and ideas. Regarding ethics, the government adopts the European ethical guidelines outlined by the European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice.
Given that data is an important driver for the development of AI applications, the Latvian Government has adopted guiding principles for e-government and data governance in the public administration. These measures aim to foster the development of new information systems towards open data and to facilitate the path towards the creation of single data centres. In June 2017, Latvia has launched an Open Data Portal to harmonise data collection and encourage data sharing. A survey targeting practitioners has also been launched in March 2019 to understand their data needs and to obtain recommendations and feedback on the data published in the open data portal. The Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development (VARAM) has been appointed as national authority to coordinate open data policies and initiatives in the public administration. In the third quarter of 2019, an information report entitled “Latvian Open Data Strategy” was published. This report lays the foundations for strategic policy actions for the period 2019-2022 towards an open data governance in the public administration.
Latvia has currently two High Performing Computing Centres: the High Performance Computing Unit at the Ventspils International Radio Astronomy Centre (VSRC) and the RTU Scientific Computing Centre. Besides these two centres, the Institute of Electronics and Computer Sciences (EDI), an independent scientific institute, has also invested in a high performance computer allowing to explore and analyse big data with cutting-edge techniques in AI. In addition, the Latvian strategy mentions the need to increase computing capacities through investments in cloud services and quantum computing.
AI to address societal challenges
Climate and environment
During a meeting at the European Parliament in January 2020, the Latvian President called for a responsible use of technologies and AI in the public and private sector to facilitate the European Green Deal and to counter the ongoing climate change.
In a similar vein, the Latvian national AI strategy foresees a high potential in Latvia to develop AI applications for the environmental protection. In particular, it highlighted the analysis of satellite images to detect the presence of hazardous substances in the environment. Changes in soil and foliar may be noticed in certain light spectra, which may indicate contamination. Drones (unmanned aircraft) could be used for the observation of protected areas and to detect changes to the climate.
Witnessing that data quality is essential for the training of AI systems, the Latvian national AI strategy recommends an open data governance across the scientific and business community. With respect to the climate change, this includes data sharing initiatives of the data repository of the Latvian Environmental, Geological and Meteorological Centre (VSIA) containing meteorological radar images, measurements, and forecast data. Data should be made available in a structured, machine-readable format for the use of AI and machine learning algorithms.
In March 2020, the Latvian tech start-up community HackForce organised a virtual hackathon and created solutions to help with COVID-19 crisis. The hackathon encompassed “medicine and healthcare – digital technology solutions and prototypes” among its key topics. Participants with the most innovative ideas were rewarded with funding to develop their projects. The Latvian Ministry of Economics and the Latvian Investment Development Agency contributed EUR 25,000 to the prize pool of the hackathon.
Monitoring and future update
The implementation of the Latvian strategy will be monitored and evaluated on a regular basis and adjusted with additional policy initiatives where needed. Currently planned key initiatives are digitalisation with a focus on AI, supplementation of new language pairs for machine translation systems, skill improvement in the field of natural language processing, analytical machine learning tools for crime investigation and development of an AI-based proactive services model for citizens.
Latvia (2020). Informatīvais ziņojums “Par mākslīgā intelekta risinājumu attīstību”. http://tap.mk.gov.lv/doc/2020_02/IZ_MI%5b1%5d.2.docx