In August 2020, the Slovenian Government released for public consultation a draft National programme promoting the development and use of AI in the Republic of Slovenia by 2025 (NpUI), with the plan to release the official AI programme in 2021 (Slovenia, 2020). The draft programme results from consultations among relevant ministries, national experts, industrial representatives through the ICT Association of Slovenia (ZIT) of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Slovenia (CCIS), researchers and practicioners in the field of AI through the Slovenian Artificial Intelligence Society (SLAIS), and stakeholders of the Strategic Research and Innovation Partnerships on Smart cities (SRIP CS&C), Factories of the future (SRIP FoF), and civil society through the Slovenian Digital Coallition (SDC) to mention some.
The NpUI entails a programme of strategic objectives and concrete measures to foster Slovenia’s research and innovation capacity and international competitiveness in the field of AI from 2020 to 2025. The programme encompasses holistic strategic actions since AI is a multidisciplinary field, therefore the strategic targets are:
- Creating a supportive ecosystem for research, innovation and AI deployment;
- Strengthening technological and industrial capacities in the field of AI;
- Implementing reference AI solutions in the industry, public sector, public and state administration and society;
- Enhancing international cooperation;
- Ensuring an appropriate ethical and legal framework to increase public trust in AI;
- Launching a National AI Observatory;
- Establishing a cutting-edge data and computing infrastructure for AI.
Slovenia has earmarked EUR 110 million of public funding to implement these strategic objectives until 2025.
The NpUI aims to reinforce human resources in AI along three lines by means of the following actions: 1) updating formal educational curricula at all levels providing AI related knowledge and skills, 2) supporting professionals in acquiring AI skills at work, 2) raising general awareness, understanding and knowledge of AI in the entire population.
The Slovenian Government aims to update the education system, from primary school to secondary level, to include relevant digital and computational thinking topics, and promote and integrate AI related topics to tertiary level curricula. The objective is to provide future generations with the necessary skills and competencies in AI and to anticipate labour market trends. In this respect, the NpUI emphasises that education should be equally accessible by all social groups, and it envisages developing platforms for distant learning methods and trainings. In particular, the programme places utmost importance on the following policy initiatives:
- Systematically reviewing and modernising the primary and secondary education programmes, by including new digital technology related courses and by expanding existing courses on computer and information technology;
- Introducing and showcasing AI use across many disciplines (e.g. history, biology, art) in primary and secondary schools to show usefulness and benefits of AI;
- Systematically reviewing the curricula of tertiary education to integrate relevant AI courses and programmes;
- Introducing inter-disciplinary programmes within tertiary education to integrate AI in key disciplines like data science, humanities and law.
Life-long learning and upskilling opportunities are foreseen to keep pace with the evolving needs of the labour market. The following policies will help both public and private sector to embrace a professional upgrade towards AI:
- Supporting general training and re-skilling programmes for employees to acquire new skills and professional qualifications in AI;
- Supporting training for decision makers in private and public sector about opportunities and threats of AI;
- Launching AI training programmes for professionals using AI models, methods and algorithms in the development and implementation of products and services in priority areas;
- Introducing educational programmes for companies and public administration on the advantages and disadvantages of AI, and on the need of a legal and ethical framework that facilitates AI development and use;
- Developing a web platform with online courses to acquire advanced professional digital skills, especially in the fields of AI and data sciences.
From the lab to the market
The Slovenian Government promotes research excellence and increases the scientific and innovation capacity in the field of AI in both the public and private sector. The following policy measures target all industry areas with demonstrated potential for AI developments, and they aim to support innovative ideas across all technological readiness levels (TRL):
- Public co-financing to support AI centre of excellence and basic AI research (TRL 1);
- Support to collaborative projects (TRL 2-4) in the intersection of AI technologies and related technologies (e.g. big data, HPC, IT security, language technologies, IoT, blockchain, quantum computing);
- Support to inter-disciplinary innovation projects at final stage of development (TRL 5-8) in various areas (e.g. public administration, culture, environment, energy, agriculture, smart cities, transport, smart manufacturing);
- Support to reference implementation projects in selected priority areas (health and medicine, Industry 4.0 and robotics, culture & language technologies, public administration, sustainable food production and environment and spatial planning).
The NpUI also supports the Slovenian stakeholders that participate in the EU framework programmes for research, innovation and deployment such as Horizon Europe and Digital Europe. Furthermore, specific support addresses Slovenian firms and institutions that develop standards in the field of AI. Besides targeting research and innovation on AI standards, the Slovenian Government also promotes collaborations with national, EU and international standardisation organisations.
According to the Slovenian Government the key priority areas (i.e. with the highest potential for successful reference implementations of AI technologies) for the development of AI solutions are: Health and Medicine, Industry 4.0 and robotics, culture & language technologies, public administration, sustainable food production and environment, and spatial planning.
Finally, the Slovenian NpUI highlights the importance of proper technical data and computational infrastructure (e.g. HPC, Edge AI) and testing and experimental facilities to facilitate the development of AI tools and algorithms. The current Open data platform for data sharing (OPSI) remains the central hub for further development of data sharing infrastructure and practices. The first EuroHPC world-class supercomputer Vega remains the main computational infrastructure for further adaptation to AI use. On the other hand, Edge-AI infrastructure has been developed for the Factory of the Future (FoF) digital twin demonstration centre at the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering (University of Ljubljana) within the FoF Strategic Research and Innovation Partnership.
The NpUI presents a wide range of policy initiatives to foster networks and collaborations across the business community, public sector, academia and public research centres. Networking will encourage multidisciplinary cutting-edge research and innovation projects, and it will enable synergies and cross-fertilisation among all players by promoting knowledge dissemination and transfers. National and international collaborations will benefit from the following actions:
- Establishing a central coordination body, like the Slovenian Digital Coalition, to support collaborative efforts among all relevant national stakeholders in the development of AI;
- Creating a supportive environment for a Digital Innovation Hub (DIH) on AI;
- Strengthening Strategic Research and Innovation Partnerships (SRIPS) that have AI-related projects like Smart cities (SRIP CS&C) and Factories of the Future (SRIP FoF) among others;
- Supporting the Slovenian researchers and institutions to engage actively in the European programmes for AI like CLAIRE, ELLIS, AI4EU, and in the national smart specialisation platforms (S3);
- Encouraging active collaborations with international organisations such as the Council of Europe, the European Commission, the OECD, and UNESCO;
- Supporting the work of the International Research Centre on Artificial Intelligence (IRCAI) located in the premises of the Jožef Stefan Institute in Ljubljana. The IRCAI operates under the auspices of the United Nations Organisation for Education, Science, and Culture (UNESCO) to develop AI-based tools, products and services and provides policy support to AI so that UNESCO Member States will attain the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) sooner.
In addition, Slovenia 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.
The Slovenian Government also envisages the following policies to raise the trust, awareness and knowledge about AI, to enhance public trust in AI, and its dissemination and uptake in the economy:
- Establishing and strengthening the dialogue with media and opinion leaders that can inform and raise awareness around activities, opportunities and risks of AI;
- Organising conferences and workshops to spread knowledge about AI, and establishing an AI Ambassador to inform about the national activities on AI;
- Launching a communication platform to collect and disseminate good practices and case studies on the deployment and use of AI in society;
- Supporting NGO networking and coordination for participation in activities of research, development, deployment and use of AI at national and EU level.
Finally, the Slovenian Government envisages a national AI Observatory to monitor the development and uptake of AI in Slovenia with a suitable methodology and indicators. This activity could be coordinated and implemented in cooperation with the Statistical Office of the Republic of Slovenia (SURS).
The successful deployment of AI lies on defining principles for a human-centred, trustworthy, fair, transparent and sustainable development of this emerging technology. This requires a clear ethical framework backed by a strong legal environment. To this purpose, the Slovenian NpUI proposes the following main measures:
- Analysis of the appropriate legal and ethical framework for the development, implementation and application of AI-based systems, especially in decision-making systems on the rights and obligations of natural and legal persons in terms of the adequacy of different AI models;
- Establishing an ethical framework to supervise and certify ethically sound AI solutions;
- Creating a national supervisory mechanism to verify the compliance of AI systems with both the EU legislation and the EU’s ethical guidelines;
- Including humanities, social sciences, legal and security experts and NGO representatives in activities related to AI, in the support pillar of the Slovenian Digital Coalition.
The NpUI highlights that the design of both ethical and legal frameworks should emerge from the collaboration of relevant international organisations (e.g. EU, UNESCO, Council of Europe) to ensure conformity with supra-national legislation and regulations. In addition, the NpUI foresees an annual conference to inform citizens and relevant stakeholders about regulatory frameworks in place.
The NpUI also mentions that a legal and ethical AI would enhance cybersecurity by detecting frauds and cyber threats, and by enabling authorities to enforce laws and fight crimes more effectively. On this point, the Slovenian Government envisages pilot projects to use AI in cybersecurity and one to enhance the efficiency of police work.
An appropriate data and telecommunication infrastructure is crucial to collect, share and analyse big data that feed into AI algorithms. This infrastructure should provide reliable and high-quality data that a wide range of users could share in robust and accessible ways.
A well-developed data infrastructure to deploy AI includes the following policies:
- Creating national data spaces to develop AI in different areas (e.g. production, environment, mobility, health and medicine, finance, energy, agriculture, public administration, skills), and setting up a national platform with AI tools and algorithms developed in Slovenia;
- Supporting the integration of data spaces at EU level;
- Raising awareness on risks and opportunities of sharing data across economy, public sector and research community;
- Equipping the national infrastructure portal clarin.si with linguistic resources and technologies;
- Establishing a national IoT platform to deploy AI to the benefit of smart cities and communities.
With respect to telecommunication infrastructure, the Slovenian Government highlights the importance of high-performance computing, cloud services, and broadband infrastructure to manage large amounts of data. To this purpose, the NpUI foresees the following policy:
- Supporting the pan-European initiative for high-performance computing (EuroHPC), and setting up HPC facilities in Slovenia, to develop AI algorithms and applications. On this point, Slovenia is rolling out the HPC project RIVR VEGA to establish a national high-performance computing infrastructure.
Access to the national supercomputing infrastructure is based on the principle of open science – open research infrastructure and is free of charge for all researchers working in Slovenia. The new infrastructure enables Slovenian researchers to cooperate on an equal footing at international level and provides them a competitive advantage
AI to address societal challenges
Climate and environment
At the 50th annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2020, the Slovenian Prime Minister remarked the relevance of AI in modernising the public sector and in addressing the key societal challenges including climate and health.
In May 2020, the agreement to establish the International Research Centre on Artificial Intelligence (IRCAI) in Ljubljana was signed by the Slovenian Minister of Education, Science and Sport and the Deputy Prime Minister with the UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information as the representative of the Director-General. The activities of the IRCAI should not only maximise the benefits of AI to achieve the sustainable development goals (including the one on climate action), but also accelerate a multi-stakeholder mechanism to put AI under the verification of ethical, legal, openness and policy challenges.
In July 2020 a delegation of 15 Slovenian companies and institutions in the field of green technologies and innovations accompanied the President of the Republic of Slovenia on his official visit to Bratislava. During the visit a Slovenian-Slovak business forum was held with individual business meetings between participants from both countries. Both Slovenia and Slovakia stress the importance of sustainable development, with an emphasis on the green agenda and digitalisation in the context of circular economy, smart technologies, e-mobility and AI. Slovenian companies could exchange views with Slovak companies on breakthrough solutions in these areas.
In July 2020, SPIRIT Slovenia in cooperation with the Embassy of the Republic of Slovenia in Tokyo and Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation, prepared a web conference for Japanese companies interested in investing in Central and Eastern European countries. The content of the conference especially revolved around:
- The current economic situation in Slovenia and the consequences caused by the COVID-19 pandemic;
- Business opportunities in the field of mobility, smart grids, and fintech;
- Slovenian high-tech research institutions (energy storage, AI, robotics).
Within the framework of the GPAI, to which Slovenia is participating, a working group on AI and pandemic response (AIPR) has been formed to promote cross-sectoral and cross-border collaboration in this area. In November 2020, the working group released a report outlining its mandate and providing recommendations to foster and support the responsible development and use of AI-enabled solutions to address COVID-19 and future pandemics.
The IRCAI in Slovenia has also launched an "intelligent" media watch on coronavirus called Corona Virus Media Watch which collects global and national news from a selection of media with open online information. The tool, also developed with the support of the OECD and the Event Registry information extraction technology, is a useful source of information for policy makers, the media and the public to observe emerging trends related to COVID-19. As part of the platform Corona Virus Media Watch, the University of Ljubljana developed a social distancing simulator which allows an interactive exploration of social distancing on the spread of contagious diseases. Other functionalities proposed by the Virus Media Watch are similarity measures between countries in people mobility patterns and search engines on scientific medical literature.
From April 2020 to October 2020, the National COVID-19 Prevalence Study determined the number of people infected with COVID-19, the number of asymptomatic individuals who did not know they were infected, and the number of recovered people. The study used Bayesian approaches, machine learning and AI methods for data collection and analyses.
Several research projects use AI algorithms to analyse and fight against the COVID-19 virus. Researchers of the Department of Knowledge Technologies (KT) at the Jožef Stefan Institute have developed models to predict dynamics of the COVID-19 pandemic in Slovenia. Using computational scientific discovery methods and machine learning, the model simulates and predicts the dynamics of the infected population in the future. Other research projects focus on the influence of weather, humidity and other factor on the speed of the coronavirus progress, and on the effectiveness of various approaches for curbing the coronavirus infection. The latter two projects use machine learning, data mining, and advanced statistical methods. Researchers from the Department of Intelligent Systems at the Jožef Stefan Institute have also participated to the Pandemic Response Challenge focusing on the development of data-driven AI systems to predict COVID-19 infection. The team developed accurate predictors of COVID-19 infections using a combination of a SEIR epidemiological model and machine learning and modelled the necessary trade-offs when weighing public health interventions and economic impact.
Finally, the COVID-19 tracker is a project relying on crowdsourcing funding to collect, analyse and publish data on the spread of the COVID-19 virus in Slovenia. Employing this tracker data, researchers of the Jožef Stefan Institute are predicting the workload of the epidemiological service with AI-related methods.
Monitoring and future update
The Slovenian Government highlights that the implementation of the NpUI is dynamic, therefore there will be periodic updates and reviews about the achievement of objectives. Policy actions will likely evolve over the coming years and new policies could supplement existing ones, in particular to support the EU priority measures.
Slovenia (2020). Nacionalni programme spodbujanja razvoja in uporabe umetne intelligence v Republiki Sloveniji do leta 2025. Republika Slovenja. https://www.gov.si/assets/ministrstva/MJU/DID/NpUI_SI_2021-04-12_cistopis.docx