In October 2019, the Dutch Government has released its Strategic action plan for artificial intelligence (Netherlands, 2019). The strategy presents a range of policy initiatives to strengthen Netherlands’ competitiveness in AI on the global market. The vision of the Dutch AI strategy relies on three strategic pillars, aiming at:
- Capitalising on societal and economic opportunities: policies encouraging the adoption, use and development of AI in the private and public sector and promoting the use of AI to tackle societal challenges;
- Creating the right conditions: policies supporting education and skills development in AI; fostering research and innovation in AI, facilitating the access to qualitative data and improving the digital infrastructure;
- Strengthening the foundations: including policy actions related to ethical issues, such as trust, human rights, consumer protection, and safety of citizens.
The strategy contains an extensive list of initiatives aiming at fostering AI in the economy through policies related to education, R&D and innovation, networking, regulation and infrastructure.
The Dutch strategy mentions in an annex that the yearly governmental budget for AI innovation and research is estimated at EUR 45 million per year. In 2019 this budget was EUR 64 million. In 2020 the Netherlands funded an additional EUR 23.5 million for the Public Private Partnership the Dutch AI Coalition. In April 2021 an investment programme was granted to maximise the possibilities of AI for the Dutch economy and society by investing an additional amount of maximum EUR 276 million in the upcoming years.
Formal education and training reforms are foreseen through policies targeting increased digital literacy in primary and secondary education and providing more opportunities to develop skills and competencies in data science in higher education (National Data Science Trainee programme). A national online course on AI is also available for civil servants in the Netherlands. Vocational training initiatives funded by the Regional Investment Fund will target more closely the future (digital) needs of the labour market. Further training and lifelong learning are fostered with the STAP-scheme – a EUR 200 million investment to create training opportunities in AI and digital skills for individuals – and with a multi-annual programme for the improvement of Lifelong Development, with a focus on digital skills.
From the lab to the market
In order to stimulate basic and applied research in AI, the Dutch Research Council is supporting a new research programme on AI. To complement this initiative, the Dutch AI-coalition proposes the establishment of an AI Competence Centre. In order to create favourable conditions for companies to invest in AI, the Dutch Government improves access to innovation funding and venture capital through Innovation Credits, the Seed Capital Scheme and the Dutch Venture Initiative. In addition, the Chamber of Commerce offers hands-on information on AI, which could support companies in their innovation efforts.
The Dutch Government also developed the Knowledge and innovation Covenant (KIC) funding. This funding is provided by knowledge institutions, the business community, governments and other public parties that jointly invest in innovation. KIC 2020-2023 supports fundamental and practical research in public-private partnerships and focuses on key enabling technologies such as energy transition and sustainability, agriculture, water and food, health care, and safety. AI is a key enabler in each of these areas.
Concerning R&D&I, five projects in the fields of AI, regenerative medicine, health data infrastructure, quantum technology and hydrogen/green chemistry received funding from the National Growth Fund. The Netherlands AI Coalition (NL AIC), a public-private partnership consisting of more than 400 participants, received a share of EUR 276 million to fund the first phase of its project on AI, called the AiNEd Programme (Netherlands, 2021). It aims to accelerate the development and application of AI. It focuses on large-scale projects for 1) accelerating innovative AI applications, 2) strengthening the knowledge base of fundamental and applied research, 3) increasing the capacity for AI educating and training, 4) developing human-centred AI with ethical and legal frameworks and 5) making data available for AI.
The Dutch Government highly values collaborations and public-partnerships (PPPs) in AI, such as the Netherlands AI coalition, in which the government, the business sector, educational and research institutions, as well as civil society organisations collaborate to accelerate and connect AI developments and initiatives. Other examples include initiatives such as Commit2Data and VWData with a focus on big data.
Furthermore, the strategy highlights examples of national collaborations in using AI applications in the legal environment (e.g. document automation and due diligence based on AI) and the public domain (e.g. chatbots). Finally, collaborations across the national borders are encouraged by strengthening Netherlands’ partnership in European AI consortia (e.g. European Partnership on Artificial Intelligence, Data and Robotics, AI4EU, CLAIRE and ELLIS) and international AI collaborations such as Holland Innovation Network and the Coalition of the Willing.
In addition, the Netherlands takes part in the Global Partnership on AI (GPAI), an international initiative to spur a responsible development and use of AI in full respect of human rights, inclusion, diversity, innovation and economic growth. The GPAI collaborates with international partners and organisations to bring together experts from industry, civil society, governments and the academic world. This initiative is stirred by a secretariat, hosted by the OECD in Paris, and it accounts for two Centres of Expertise in Montreal and in Paris.
Regarding regulation, the Dutch Government advocates an ethical, trustworthy and responsible use of AI with respect for human rights and consumer protection, and based on a well-developed legal framework. Policy actions relate to various research activities on ethical, legal and transparency aspects, and responsible use of AI. The Netherlands AI coalition has for instance developed the concept of ELSA labs (ELSA refers to Ethical, Legal and Societal Aspects) to enhance synergies between research, education and organisations on human-centric AI. The Dutch Government also highlights its active participation into High Level Experts Groups and European Directives on these issues.
Several reforms to the legislation are ongoing to support the protection of public values and encourage the use of AI in a trustworthy environment:
- Amsterdam's AI register (in partnership with the city of Helsinki): Amsterdam and Helsinki have launched open AI registers that track how algorithms are being used in the municipalities. A White Paper on the AI register was published on September 2020 to inspire other governments/organisations wanting to be transparent about their use of algorithms and AI;
- Experimental Law on self-driving vehicles: In effect since July 2019, public road tests involving self-driving vehicles without drivers present are allowed under certain conditions;
- Principles of good governance and consumer protection for the use and development of AI have been amended in the Freedom of Information Act, the General Administrative Law Act and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The Dutch Government has also implemented the Law Enforcement Directive in its national legislation, which contains provisions regarding automated decision making for law enforcement. Related to this latter issue, the government has adopted a law to prevent discrimination in recruitment when automated systems are used;
- The Dutch Government has developed guidelines for applying algorithmic data analysis, with the intention to translate them into legislation.
The Dutch strategy includes policy initiatives to foster the data infrastructure and to provide foundations for data use and sharing. It includes the promotion of FAIR principles for private data sharing, the participation into the Common European Data Space and the creation of an inventory of data sharing solutions. In terms of digital and telecommunication infrastructure, the Dutch strategy mentions among others the Digital Connectivity Action Plan (aiming at setting up a high-quality connectivity) and the government investments in supercomputing power (e.g. supercomputer at SURF).
AI to address societal challenges
Climate and environment
The NL AIC coalition highlights energy and sustainability as one of the key areas for AI applications. AI is a cornerstone technology to reduce energy consumption and develop innovative projects with positive climate impact. A dedicated Energy and Sustainability working group has been created to bring together ongoing initiatives and to create preconditions for cooperation in this field (e.g. by making agreements on data access and use).
The Dutch Water Partnership (NWP) is a network of Dutch organisations, including government agencies, from the water sector with the goal to collaborate on developing sustainable water solutions. This partnership highlights the importance of AI and machine learning to augment human-based know-how to improve efficiency and free up resources in the water sector, therefore positively contributing sustainability and environmental challenges.
In January 2016, the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI) has created the KNMI DataLab. This project aims to facilitate and coordinate innovations in the fields of climate change, weather forecasting and seismology. The KNMI Datalab brings value and support to collaborating partners by sharing its knowledge in these research fields and by providing access to the data available at KNMI. Big data management, data analytics including machine learning and deep learning are becoming increasingly important in the supported projects of the DataLab.
Emerging technologies as AI and big data spur the development of cutting-edge innovations and provide relief on many fronts to fight against the COVID-19. The Invest in Holland network, which provides support to the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, identifies various application areas in which AI is used in the Netherlands to overcome COVID-19:
- Using AI in medical imaging for diagnosis;
- Using AI to assess risk;
- Using AI to flatten the curve.
Overall, the following initiatives and innovative applications of AI have recently appeared in the Netherlands towards COVID-19:
- The National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) leads the way in using novel tools to track and model the spread of the virus with AI and machine learning. The national institute uses the Infection Radar that employs statistical analysis techniques falling into the machine-learning and AI category. The Infection Radar belongs to Influenzanet, a European partnership among several universities and governments in Europe;
- A team from the Netherlands Cancer Institute (NKI) prompted more than 30 other EU hospitals to submit longs’ radiographs in order to develop a powerful algorithm that could accurately diagnose coronavirus cases through CT scans within seconds. This initiative is a response to the ongoing European campaign to develop a deep learning-based model for the automated detection of abnormalities on chest CT and for quantifying lung involvement. Specifically, Imaging COVID-19 AI is a collaborative European project to enhance computed tomography (CT) in the diagnosis of COVID-19 by using AI. The project group will create a deep learning model for automated detection and classification of COVID-19 on CT scans, and for assessing disease severity in patients by quantification of lung involvement;
- The Maasstad Hospital in collaboration with Holland AI developed an algorithm based on AI in order to assess the portion of affected lung tissue in patients potentially positive to the COVID-19;
- An initiative, coordinated by Amsterdam UMC hospital together with VU University Amsterdam and Maastricht UMC, aims at increasing the use of AI to combat the corona virus. The objective of the initiative is to include all Dutch hospitals and the National Intensive Care Evaluation Foundation (NICE) to jointly step into novel AI-based researches to predict whether a patient infected with COVD-19 will become in need of ventilation;
- Within CLAIRE, a large European network of AI experts, the University of Leiden have developed AI applications that take advantage of the enormous amounts of health data generated by intensive care departments. Specifically, this data feed into self-learning algorithms meant to help doctors making forecasts and taking decisions, for example about patients’ future needs of intensive care;
- The Dutch Water Research Institute (KWR) employed AI techniques to create a measurement method that monitors sewage water and detects the presence of RNA traces of the virus which would come from infected people. Specifically, the software combines machine learning with wastewater monitoring. This method was developed as part of the Sewers4COVID project within the #EUvsVirus hackathon teaming up with Greek, Spanish, and British participants;
- The Delft University of Technology implements algorithms using available data to forecast future COVID-19 outbreaks. Specifically, they proposed the Network Inference-based Prediction Algorithm (NIPA) to forecast the future course of COVID-19;
- Medical researchers from the University of Amsterdam Medical Centre and the Maastricht University Medical Centre are collaborating on a project using AI and big data to find out how patients can be treated for coronavirus;
- A Medical Drone Service was delivering medical goods during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Monitoring and future update
The Government of the Netherlands is implementing the actions from the national strategic action plan on AI. An overall update of the national strategy for digitalization (and AI) will follow in Q2 2021. Focus will be on requirements for human-centric AI, a vivid research and innovation ecosystem (public private partnership), human capital, international cooperation, deployment (SMEs) and applications: public sector use, smart industry and AI for societal challenges: health, energy transition, agriculture, mobility.
Netherlands (2021) The AiNed National Growth Fund Investment Programme for 2021 – 2027: The AiNed Programme. https://nlaic.com/en/ained-programme/
Netherlands (2019). Strategic Action Plan for Artificial Intelligence. Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy. https://www.government.nl/binaries/government/documents/reports/2019/10/09/strategic-action-plan-for-artificial-intelligence/Strategic+Action+Plan+for+Artificial+Intelligence.pdf