In October 2019, the Maltese Government published Malta’s national AI strategy (Malta, 2019a). The objective for Malta is to gain a strategic competitive advantage in the global economy in the field of AI. To achieve this objective, the policy report presents three pillars to lay the foundations for Malta’s AI strategy:
- The creation of a solid AI ecosystem based on investments, start-up support and innovation;
- Support for increased adoption of AI in the public sector;
- Support measures for the adoption of AI in the private sector.
The successful achievement of these objectives relies on three horizontal enablers that cut across the three aforementioned areas: education and workforce, legal and ethical framework and infrastructure. The national AI strategy of Malta has been based on Malta’s AI workforce high-level policy document that was released in March 2019 for public consultation (Malta, 2019b).
Malta’s government has launched a dedicated web portal malta.ai to outline and present the progress made in implementing the national strategy in AI.
The Maltese AI strategy lacks inclusion of financial provisions or estimations for its overall implementation.
With regard to human capital, Malta will introduce fundamental changes to the educational system. In first instance educational courses and study programmes will incorporate AI and will cross-link with other disciplines such as healthcare, marketing, sociology, and physics, among others. The Maltase strategy proposes a range of policies towards the reform of primary, secondary and higher education systems as well as support for teachers to enhance their course offerings in AI:
- At early age levels and for primary education levels, the Ministry of Education and Employment will support initiatives, such as 1) the AI Family Challenge: a programme for children with AI hands-on workshops and 2) the AI Olympiad: focusing on learning and using AI methods. The Ministry will also introduce AI trainings in the secondary education system;
- In higher education, several Master programmes, PhD scholarships and postgraduate programmes in AI will be introduced in the upcoming years. These will be developed and coordinated by the Malta College of Arts, Science & Technology (MCAST) and the University of Malta (UoM), among others;
- The Ministry of Education and Employment will provide support for teachers on how AI solutions could be incorporated in the education curriculum of teachers. This will be done in collaboration with the Malta Union of Teachers.
With respect to education reforms, the Malta College of Arts, Science & Technology has released an AI Strategy and action plan 2020-2025 in which it outlines policy actions towards the introduction of AI in education systems in Malta (2019c).
Reskilling the workforce is key to get prepared for the upcoming opportunities brought along by innovative AI technologies. Malta's AI strategy makes references to both lifelong learning and the screening of labour market for upcoming skills demand. The strategy proposes the following actions among others:
- Set up of a think tank to assess the more vulnerable skills and jobs due to automation and AI in order to propose a transition plan;
- Employment reforms and safeguards to offset the impact of automation;
- Creation of a national reskilling programme to facilitate peoples' transition into areas that are complementary to AI based tasks or that require stronger elements of creative thought and cognitive aptitude;
- Promoting access to training for the workforce through the Investing in skills programme;
- The eSkills Malta Foundation can provide advice on reforms in the ICT educational offerings and AI-related courses for professionals;
- Promoting continuous learning and Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) to keep up with the speed of change due to AI technologies.
From the lab to the market
Malta's strategy foresees increased research activities, dedicated investment instruments, start-ups development and innovation support in both the public and private sector.
Both the University of Malta and the College of Arts, Science & Technology will be supported with public funding to increase applied research output in AI. According to Malta’s strategy, financial support for AI-related research could be partially funded through the R&I FUSION Programme which has an annual budget of EUR 2.2 million.
The government will provide additional funding to governmental accelerators and incubators in order to support AI-related businesses and start-ups. The accelerator YouStartIT, run by the MITA Innovation Hub, will be given funding to develop an AI-based programme to help the early start-up of AI businesses. Extra public funding will also be attributed to the TAKEOFF Seed Fund Award, a seed funding initiative to researchers and entrepreneurs. In addition, the government will organise events where AI start-ups and scale-ups can meet and team up with angel investors and venture capitalists. Lastly, the government will establish an investment fund, and will encourage co-investments from the public and private sector. It has also reformed the Seed Investments Scheme with more favourable tax credit conditions for innovative AI firms.
Other policy measures to accelerate private sector AI adoption in Malta contain, among others:
- Creating a Private Sector AI Readiness Index to assess the digital and AI maturity of business and to identify where to provide government guidance and policy actions. This index will be updated annually;
- Increasing the awareness and knowledge of the private sector on the benefits of AI and improving their trust in AI (as outlined in the section on Regulation).
Malta's strategy emphasises that policy measures enabling the use, development and integration of AI will be targeting businesses of all sizes, but particular attention will be given to SMEs as it constitutes a large proportion of Maltese businesses.
With the uptake of AI in the public sector Malta aims to improve the economic and social well-being of citizens and businesses, to provide better services and to increase the efficiency of internal operations in the public administration. The responsibility for fostering the deployment of AI in the public administration will be done by respective Ministries and Chief Information Officers. In addition, a Technical Committee will be established to review the architecture of AI solutions in the public administration. Overall, the strategy foresees the following range of initiatives for the public sector:
- Promoting AI pilot projects in the public sector and providing support along the entire implementation phase, from use-case selection, prototype and testing until successful implementation. Malta’s strategy highlights pilot projects on AI in traffic management, education, healthcare, customer service, tourism, better utilities and energy;
- Enabling automation and better use of data across public sector;
- Supporting public procurement for emerging technology solutions;
- Increasing training and awareness programmes to support AI in the public sector.
The AI strategy of Malta foresees the development of a detailed framework for collaboration between industry, educational and research institutes. This includes the design of a collaboration model, tools, guidelines, and relevant standards that facilitate interactions. The strategy highlights the need to promote collaborations at different levels of granularity (e.g. both nationally and internationally oriented) and emphasises the importance of collaborations across institutions of both public and private sectors, ranging from research institutes, private companies of any size level (with particular importance for start-ups), and educational institutions. Support actions for collaboration in AI includes, among others:
- Supporting cross-sector sharing, co-innovations with the (inter)national community;
- Increasing opportunities for collaborations with the government by opening up calls for proposals for researchers, businesses and public sector representatives on Maltese web portal for AI;
- The launch of a Digital Innovation Hub with a focus on AI, which will serve as a collaboration platform to foster AI opportunities in the public and private sector by bringing research and innovation communities together.
Besides support for enhancing collaboration, the strategy of Malta is also proposing initiatives towards increasing the international attractiveness of the country for international talents, entrepreneurs and investors:
- The launch of a Start-up visa, which provides a simplified procedure for start-up founders and their families members from outside the EU to reside and work in Malta;
- Malta’s Key Employee Initiative provides fast-track services to highly-specialised third-country professionals employed in Malta;
- The government has re-introduced the Qualifying Employment in Innovation and Creativity (Personal Tax) Scheme. This measure facilitates employment of non-residents in roles which are currently not addressed by the local labour market by temporarily easing the tax expenses incurred by such individuals through a fiscal incentive.
In terms of dissemination and uptake of AI, the Maltese high-level workforce suggests:
- To organise promotion campaigns and outreach programmes to highlight the benefits of AI. The Maltese strategy announces a public investment of EUR 1 million per year for this activity.
The development of a legal and ethical framework is a salient step towards a successful adoption and subsequent widespread deployment and use of AI across the economy. In October 2019, Malta published its strategy towards trustworthy AI (Malta, 2019d). It outlines Malta’s vision for an ethical and trustworthy AI and sets out four ethical AI principles to achieve this:
- Human autonomy;
- Prevent harm;
Complementing this ethical framework, Malta’s government has also set up the following policy initiatives towards the development of an ethical AI:
- The creation of a National Technology Ethics Committee to oversee the Ethical AI Framework and to ensure its monitoring and implementation;
- The launch of a national AI certification framework: a certification issued by the Malta Digital Innovation Authority (MDIA) that serves as a valuable recognition in the marketplace that the AI systems of successful applicants have been developed in an ethically aligned, transparent and socially responsible manner.
To encourage the adoption of AI, particular emphasis is placed to the development of regulation and legislation, including:
- A Technology Regulation Advisory Committee will be appointed to advise on legal matters and develop legal guidelines where needed (legislation to clarify IP ownership rights and liability in AI will be a priority);
- Malta is setting up a regulatory sandbox for AI providing regulatory exceptions to firms to foster testing of AI solutions. In addition, a Data sandbox will be developed to provide guidance on how data protection rules apply.
In terms of standardisation, Malta's AI strategy emphasises the importance to collaborate with international organisations on emerging standards and norms in AI. This goes along with the provision of a common definition on AI aligned with the one provided by the EU High-Level Expert Group on AI.
The delivery of AI research, development and adoption can only be achieved in a well-developed and cutting-edge data and ICT infrastructure. As highlighted in Malta's strategy, an enabling infrastructure should be part of a holistic AI strategy and contains various dimensions such as data and connectivity resources, compute capabilities and data sharing platforms for all institutional players, ranging from research institutes, regulatory authorities, and start-up ecosystems to innovation hubs. Among others, the strategy proposes to set up the following initiatives:
- Investing in Maltese language resources to foster language technology solutions;
- Supporting data centres to meeting the growing needs of computing power and storage. Malta Entreprise, Malta’s economic development agency, will offer incentives and support measures in this regard;
- Increasing access to open data with the launch of Malta Data Portal, an open data repository developed by the Malta Information Technology Agency (MITA);
- Providing cost-effective access to computing capacity through various initiatives such as supercomputing cluster A.L.B.E.R.T, and Malta’s participation in the European Initiative EuroHPC to develop a pan-European supercomputing infrastructure;
- Enabling access to cloud platforms for the public and private sector by means of initiatives such as Malta Hybrid Cloud procured by MITA.
AI to address societal challenges
Climate and environment
The Government of Malta has committed to establish itself as a centre of Climate Friendly Travel. In doing so, it puts itself on the forefront in addressing the climate change by promoting climate-friendly travel through reduced emissions with the ultimate objective of carbon neutrality. The Maltese Government made this statement during the SunX Malta’s first Annual Climate Friendly Travel Think Tank in February 2020. SunX Malta has been established through support from the Ministry for Tourism & Consumer Protection, and Malta Tourism Authority (MTA). This company aims at contributing to the global effort of converting the threat of the ongoing climate change. In collaboration with the Swiss-based company Wisekey, it launched the Tourist Digital Identity using Blockchain AI and IoT technologies.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Mater Dei Hospital deployed a new robot which can process 800 coronavirus tests per day and release the results within few minutes.
Monitoring and future update
The national AI strategy of Malta sets out a vision at long-term, aiming to transform Malta into a leading economy in the field of AI by 2030. The policies outlined in the strategy are meant to be undertaken in the period 2019-2022. Their implementation will be monitored and evaluated at regular basis. Malta’s web portal on AI will be used to release forthcoming information on the progress of the strategy’s implementation.
Malta (2019a). Malta the ultimate AI Launchpad: a strategy and vision for Artificial Intelligence in Malta 2030. https://malta.ai/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Malta_The_Ultimate_AI_Launchpad_vFinal.pdf
Malta (2019b). Malta towards an AI strategy: High-level document for public consultation. https://malta.ai/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Draft_Policy_document_-_online_version.pdf
Malta (2019c). MCAST: Artificial Intelligence Strategy: roadmap 2025. Malta College of Arts, Science & Technology. https://www.mcast.edu.mt/wp-content/uploads/AI-Strategy_Final.pdf
Malta (2019d). Malta towards trustworthy AI: Malta’s Ethical AI Framework. https://malta.ai/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Malta_Towards_Ethical_and_Trustworthy_AI_vFINAL.pdf