In March 2019, the Ministry of Economy and Innovation released the Lithuanian artificial intelligence strategy: a vision for the future (Lithuania, 2019). The aim of the strategy (p. 4) is to "modernise and expand the current AI ecosystem in Lithuania and ensure that the nation is ready for a future with AI". The strategy has been drafted by a working group consisting of representatives of the private sector, academia and governmental institutions.
The strategy provides an overview of the current AI landscape in Lithuania and a range of policy recommendations in key areas with the aim to:
- Improving the skills and education in AI for all citizens;
- Strengthening the national research and innovation ecosystem in the field of AI;
- Increasing the deployment, development and use of AI in all economic activities, including both the private and public sector;
- Promoting national and international collaborations in AI and enhancing network opportunities;
- Developing an ethical and legal framework for a sustainable and transparent development of AI applications;
- Establishing a responsible and efficient data ecosystem for AI.
The Lithuanian strategy does not include concrete policy initiatives but merely serves as a guiding document for all actors in the country with policy recommendations. It does not outline financial provisions for the implementation of the strategy.
With respect to education, the Lithuanian strategy advocates the development of skills and competencies in AI at all education levels, emphasising the need to start teaching AI foundations at an early age. Reforms to the primary and secondary education system could target AI basics for children as a learning objective, and could include more courses to develop technical skills. In addition, the Lithuanian Government recommends to modernise STEM teaching subjects and to provide dedicated support to teachers to foster the quality of their education duties in AI. Master programmes and PhD scholarships in AI should also be introduced in curricula of higher education systems. AI-related courses are particularly important for those study areas that are at risk of automation. Universities could develop a website portal to attract prospective students to AI-related programmes. Finally, the Lithuanian strategy highlights the need for lifelong learning opportunities and vocational training programmes in AI. Training in AI for citizens could be done by means of massive open online training courses. Overall, the main objective of education in AI is to prepare current and future workforces to the upcoming needs of the labour market.
At the moment of publishing this report (June 2021) there are two new undergraduate level AI programmes at Lithuania’s universities, and five undergraduate and graduate level programmes are pending approval. Most of the higher education institutions incorporate AI modules in their IT and technology-related study programmes. Currently, there are nine higher education institutions and scientific institutes carrying out research in various fields of AI.
Since mid-2020, the Elements of AI course is available in Lithuania and accessible to all its citizens in Lithuanian. The Lithuanian partners of the project are the Kaunas University of Technology and the AI Boost initiative at the Agency of Science, Innovation and Technology. Around 20% of Lithuania’s population has been actively invited to take on the course.
From the lab to the market
The Lithuanian strategy presents policy recommendations for the growth of research and development in the field of AI. To this purpose, the government will establish a national research centre in AI and increase the financial support to AI research by developing new funding programmes with the aim of meeting the standards set out by the European Commission (i.e. increasing funding for AI research by 70% by the end of 2020).
To foster innovations in AI, the government advances a range of policy recommendations towards increased adoption of AI in both the private and public sector. A vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem could be encouraged by means of an AI start-up hub and Digital Innovation Hubs. Incentive mechanisms to increase the visibility of AI leading firms through awards such as seals of excellence or an AI badge are also considered. In the private sector, the Lithuanian Government identifies the following priority areas with high AI potential: manufacturing, agriculture, healthcare, transport and energy. In the public sector, an Advisory Board will be created to advise on future AI policies and to foster an innovative culture in the public administration. Regulatory sandboxes will be established to provide optimal conditions for testing promising AI solutions. Lastly, guidance is foreseen to adopt and implement AI systems. The AI Boost initiative is consulting young companies about their AI products with the goal to help at least 50 start-ups in developing at least 20 working prototypes of their AI solutions.
The AI ecosystem is further strengthened with policies towards networking and opportunities for partnerships across all relevant stakeholders. Research centres, businesses and public organisations are encouraged to join forces and to increase knowledge transfers among each other. The strategy presents policy recommendations to stimulate both national and international collaborations. To promote networking within the country, the government will set up and promote AI meetings and conferences and will foster the creation of communities of AI experts. At international level, the strategy recommends to strengthen its ties with adjacent countries Latvia and Estonia and to set up shared initiatives with extended neighbours of the Baltic region. Finally, Lithuania should continue supporting initiatives at the European Union level and beyond, seeking among others to cooperate with global leading companies in AI.
The AI Boost initiative also organises outreach activities such as the AI BOOST 2021 Conference, which is a two-day event with keynotes and panel discussions around various tracks, including AI for business, AI for society and AI for Government.
To create a solid foundation for trustworthy developments of AI, the Lithuanian strategy sets out recommendations for the creation of an ethical and legal regulatory framework. To this purpose, the government will establish an AI ethics committee to develop a proposal for ethical guidelines. Lithuania strongly recommends the development of ethical principles and legal rules to overcome the current ethical and legal vacuum in the country. The development of this regulatory framework could take advantage of existing regulations at European level. Analyses of good practices could also be useful. Overall, new rules and regulations should aim to ensure explainability, transparency, fairness, trust, verifiability, safety and security against attacks. The creation of a national interdisciplinary centre on AI is also considered to promote discussions of surrounding issues on ethics of AI. In addition, guidelines for unbiased algorithms are being developed to assist developers and managers in assuring that their AI products do not discriminate women, disabled persons, and other disadvantaged groups. Finally, Lithuania adopted a law on autonomous driving that allows operation of self-driving cars without a driver being present.
The Lithuanian strategy emphasises the need to create a stable and AI-friendly data environment, with focus on the public sector. The government highlights the existence of an open data portal Open.data.gov.lt. This portal provides an initial step towards the establishment of an open data ecosystem, but the current version is still limited in usability due to a large portion of data being uploaded in closed format. Hence, the government encourages setting up a centralised hub for open data with enforced standards for data management and sufficient data literacy for a proper use of the data. Finally, the data infrastructure should aim at meeting international standards with respect to findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable (FAIR) principles, and General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
AI to address societal challenges
Climate and environment
In 2020, the Lithuanian Government has developed a Long-term investment plan for economic stimulus. Specifically, The Ministry of Finance prepared this plan in cooperation with other ministries and with the Government Strategic Analysis Centre (STRATA). It identifies five priorities related to human capital, digital economy and business, innovation and research, economic infrastructure as well as climate change and energy.
The fifth priority about Climate change and energy explicitly focuses on increasing the use of renewable energy sources (RES) and on enhancing the efficiency and competitiveness of the energy sector. The objectives include: the development of offshore wind infrastructure; the installation of RES in households, industrial and public buildings of private and legal persons; the modernisation and development of heat supply networks and the renovation of buildings; the replacement of petroleum gas appliances in multi-apartment buildings by other energy sources; and the generation of electricity by using liquefied natural gas.
A non-negligible part of the initiatives planned for the development of a more sustainable economy will probably rely on AI and will benefit from the policies in the second pillar on digital economy and business. Investments in this pillar will target industrial digitisation, the support of new e-businesses, the development of innovation sandboxes and the preparation of 5G networks.
In addition to these initiatives, in 2019 the Agency for Science, Innovation and Technology (MITA) organised a conference on GovTech Baltic Leaders in collaboration with GovTech Lab Lithuania. The conference objective was to bring together representatives from both the public and private sectors to discuss how tech start-ups can help to achieve sustainable development, and what role GovTech could have in solving the climate crisis.
More recently, in July 2020, MITA announced a call for proposals to support the development of Green industry innovation. The call foresees investments from EUR 10,000 to EUR 2 million per project. The innovation areas include bio-technologies, new products from recycled materials, environmental technologies and technologies to modernise production processes while reducing their negative impact on the environment, such as digitisation, automation, robotisation.
The Lithuanian Long-term investment plan for economic stimulus includes funding for a wide range of scientific and business activities to counteract the COVID-19 outbreak. Within this specific field, it includes funding for scientific research, the development of products, accelerating related start-ups, health infrastructure, advanced clinical trials, innovative treatment methods, digital health innovations and tele-health services.
The Ministry of Economy and Innovation introduced an AI-powered robot ViLTė providing official COVID-19 related information. This virtual conversation robot is now embedded in the Government’s website. Using AI algorithms it answers citizens’ questions posed in Lithuanian or English about coronavirus related issues. Reinforcement learning techniques allow the robot to become smarter each time it receives an additional question.
It is worth noticing that ViLTė was actually ideated during the Lithuanian edition of the hackathon Hack the Crisis, specifically designed to respond to the COVID-19 crisis and co-organised by a GovTech team from MITA. Specifically, the project GovTech Lab by MITA aims ‘to boost the innovation ecosystem within the fields of GovTech and AI by increasing the number of GovTech and AI companies, encouraging organisations to integrate and use GovTech and AI solutions, focusing on raising awareness about such innovations and ensuring the accessibility of knowledge and experts for those, who aspire to create AI or GovTech products.
In June 2020, the Minister of Energy, the acting Minister of Economy and Innovation, and the Minister of Finance opened the four-day online conference Fintech Week Lithuania. This event revolves around AI and data economy from a fintech perspective. It hosted the Lithuanian fintech company Bankera that was previously awarded - in the Digital Finance category – in the #EUvsVirus hackathon to develop innovative solutions to overcome COVID-19. In this latter hackathon, the Lithuanian awarded projects proposing AI-enabled solutions are:
- Katana ML: a project aiming to forecast COVID-19 cases for 20 days ahead with machine learning techniques;
- Teachers Lead Tech: a project to support the use of 3D modelling and virtual reality and as such to improve learning experiences at schools.
Monitoring and future update
Lithuania is considering a review and, if necessary, an update of its national AI strategy in 2021. Investment measures are being planned to support the development of language resources for use in AI, as well as support schemes for AI start-ups, and for businesses performing AI transformations.
Lithuania (2019). Lithuanian Artificial Intelligence Strategy: a vision for the future. Ministry of Economy and Innovation. https://eimin.lrv.lt/uploads/eimin/documents/files/DI_strategija_ENG(1).pdf