Let’s Make AI for Everyone

Today is ICAI’s fifth anniversary. We started ICAI from the fundamental belief that if AI is going to transform and permeate every single aspect of our society, we should help ensure that we can influence, steer, and own these developments ourselves, here in The Netherlands and in Europe. A core motivation behind ICAI has been to help address the significant concentration of power and data in the hands of a very small number of companies that have almost exclusive access to these technologies outside of any form of democratic control. Giving ourselves the means to develop talent and technology in AI is an issue of industrial and, ultimately, societal sovereignty.

The mission that ICAI has pursued to support open talent and technology development in AI since its launch on April 23, 2018 can best be summarized in three phrases: shared ownership, augmented intelligence, and many voices

Shared ownership” refers to democratizing AI. It refers to the collaborative development of talent and technology in AI, with different types of stakeholders – knowledge institutes, industry, government, civil society – based on shared innovation agendas that the stakeholders determine, work on, and revise themselves. Learning-by-doing is a key ingredient of shared ownership, so that all stakeholders become smarter through their participation in collaborative development. ICAI’s labs are our primary vehicle for putting shared ownership into practice. I am very proud that as of today, when we turn five, 47 labs around the Netherlands have been launched, each with at least five PhD students. Between them, they bring together more than 140 partners from all sectors of Dutch society. 

Augmented intelligence” targets the development of AI systems not as autonomous systems that are meant to replace people but as systems that complement and support people to help them decide and act better. There is no lack of challenges where we can use help: global pandemics, resource scarcity, energy transition, aging populations, collapsing biodiversity, digital divides, climate change, staff shortages in key sectors, growing inequality, food waste, unaffordable healthcare, eroding democratic institutions. Increasingly, ICAI’s labs do not just target technological or economic goals but align their innovation agendas with the UN’s sustainable development goals.

Finally, “many voices” recognizes the diversity of perspectives on the development, roles, and impacts of AI. It also refers to the need to optimize for goals that go beyond accuracy. With the recently launched ROBUST program, ICAI now includes a large number of labs that focus on different aspects of trustworthiness of AI-based systems, such as explainability, reliability, repeatability, resilience, and safety. Rather than relying on end users, or indeed on society, to deal with the consequences of AI technologies that have been optimized for accuracy only, ROBUST emphasizes the range of meaningfully different trade-offs that technology development and deployment may and should make. Above all, the ROBUST program fosters the collective intelligence of diverse and collaborating groups of stakeholders.

ICAI has grown into a nation-wide ecosystem that is organized in a bottom-up fashion, in just five years. With this ecosystem we seek to decentralize and democratize technological power and to make sure that technology is applied for human empowerment, to have broad and genuine benefit.

Maarten de Rijke
Scientific director Innovation Center for Artificial Intelligence