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Slovenia’s artificial intelligence and data science landscape

Posted by Boris Cergol on Jun 3, 2020 12:59:20 PM
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When Slovenia appears in international media, it is often for being rediscovered as a beautiful tourist destination offering a great diversity of scenic natural sights and authentic experiences.

But recently, Slovenia has also captured some of the world’s attention by establishing the International Research Centre on Artificial Intelligence (IRCAI), a first-of-its-kind global AI center backed by UNESCO [1]. This was widely regarded as a major achievement of the Slovenian AI research community and was even covered by Mark Minevich [2] and Rebecca Banovic [3] in Forbes magazine.

However, I believe that there are quite a few other exciting aspects to Slovenia’s AI story. I have decided to contribute my part in telling them by undertaking the project to create the document “Slovenia’s Artificial Intelligence and Data Science Landscape”.

Slovenias Artificial Intelligence and Data Science Landscape

 

Motivation

Before Slovenia finalizes its national AI strategy, it would be wise to learn from some of the best practices set out by other countries. One of the common themes that are emerging is that the greatest social and economic impact of AI is achieved where countries succeed in establishing “ecosystems” of diverse entities that are capable of working in close cooperation. Such entities include universities, research institutes, start-ups, corporations, multinationals, investors, accelerators, and the public sector.

During my career, I have had an opportunity to work in a variety of roles, including as a researcher in both public and private institutions, as a university educator, as a founder of a start-up company providing AI implementation services to businesses, and currently as the Head of AI in a multinational company. Through this experience, I have learnt that Slovenia has excellent building blocks for a thriving AI ecosystem — researchers which conduct world-class research, high-quality technical studies, a vibrant start-up community, and a rapidly growing number of businesses adopting AI.

However, I have also noticed some limitations. The first, perhaps the largest, is that there is far too little collaboration and information flow between different types of entities, and that there seems to be present a strong tendency to gravitate towards self-contained cliques. The second one is that there has not been much of AI-related investment activity in Slovenia, especially from foreign investors. Although an in-depth analysis of the reasons for these limitations is beyond the scope of this blog post, it seems to me that creating a reasonably comprehensive landscape can be a small but not insignificant step towards addressing both problems.

 

Document name

The reason why I decided to name the document Slovenia’s Artificial Intelligence AND Data Science landscape is that I have had the misfortune of witnessing some quite unproductive discussions in which an individual would try to argue that the branch of machine learning that they are using in their work is “True” artificial intelligence, while the branches used by others are not. Based on this experience, I’ve decided to rather prioritize inclusiveness over gatekeeping.

 

Structure of the landscape

In defining the overall structure of the Slovenian AI and DS landscape, I was strongly inspired by the excellent work of the company EnliteAI, which created the “AI Landscape Austria” [4]. I am particularly grateful to them for the idea of including in the document not only legal entities, but also events and meetup groups. Below are some of my comments on individual categories of the document.

COMPANIES AND STARTUPS

For reasons of readability, I have decided that each company should appear in only one category. This of course meant that I had to make an editorial judgement on where to place the company, which could be listed in several categories. I expect some significant reshuffling will happen after I receive more feedback on the document.

I also had to use a lot of editorial judgment to decide whether a particular company should be listed as part of the “Slovenian” AI and DS landscape at all. My rough guideline here was that a company should have a significant presence or connection to Slovenia. This meant that I included companies that are formally registered in other countries, but operate technical teams in Slovenia or startups that were co-founded by Slovenians who appear to still be working from Slovenia, etc.

SERVICE PROVIDERS

In this category, I have listed companies for which I have estimated that their main focus related to AI or DS is helping other companies adopt these technologies, mostly either through consulting or custom implementation services.

I have further divided the service providers into two groups based on the estimated degree of their specialization. In the first group are companies that have a niche specialization in AI and DS. The second group includes companies that offer a wider range of services (often including services related to business intelligence, data warehouses, etc.).

INTERNATIONAL TECH

In this category, I have included multinational companies that usually offer a wide range of services and products. I set the condition that a company must have a certain level of physical presence (e.g. a branch office). However, I did not set a condition that the companies also need to have a team with technical AI and DS knowledge operating in Slovenia.

INTERNAL TEAM

In this category, I have listed companies that, at least to my knowledge, do not offer products or services that provide AI functionality directly to their customers. However, they have internal teams that use AI and DS technology to support various business processes.

OTHER

In this category, I have listed companies that either have a business model that makes it difficult to place them in established sectors or belong to a sector for which there is only one example of a company in Slovenia.

RESEARCH & EDUCATION

In my experience, the best way to really establish cooperation with certain laboratories is to start discussions with the heads of the individual laboratories. My initial goal was therefore to list all the individual laboratories that do AI-related research in certain faculties of certain universities. However, I realized that this would have a negative impact on the readability of the document (especially since laboratories usually have very long names and no logos), so I decided against it. As a compromise, I am including the lists of laboratories for AI-related research at faculties and institutes where there is the highest concentration of AI-related research in the appendix of this blog post.

 

Sources of Information

My research on the Slovenian AI & DS ecosystem was based exlusively on public information. The main source of information was the websites of the entities themselves. The second most important source was information accessible through the Linkedin network. In addition, I also took into account information that in some cases could be obtained from job advertisements, news, and event presentations.

 

Hopes for use cases

I hope that the AI & DS landscape will find use cases among the members of the Slovenian AI&DS ecosystem. More specifically, I hope that it will be used at least for some of the following purposes:

  • Foster new partnerships on research or commercial projects.
  • Support the competitiveness of the AI & DS ecosystem by providing ideas to companies procuring products or services to extend the tender invitations to additional suppliers.
  • Encourage proactive jobseekers looking for a job in AI or DS to contact a larger pool of potential employers.
  • Inspire journalists to approach some new companies that might have interesting products and services that could make a great story.
  • Give meetup organizers ideas for inviting new speakers.
  • Spread awareness about various regular AI & DS events.
  • Spark investor interest in the Slovenian AI & DS ecosystem.

 

Disclaimer with a call to action

I ask all readers to keep in mind that this version of the Slovenian AI & DS landscape is not a final one, but is a work in progress. I am very open to suggestions on how I can make it better, including the correction of any errors that have been made. If you feel that your organization is somehow wrongly listed, I am happy to either make (reasonable) corrections or remove the organization from the list.

However, if you think that the document has some value in its current form, you are very welcome to share it with others!

 

Acknowledgements

I am deeply grateful to Comtrade Digital Services for giving me full support to execute the initial landscape idea. I am especially grateful to the design team for their great visualization ideas but even more so for tirelesly manipulating tiny logos until the final image was created.

I would also like to thank Jasmina OvčakBoštjan Kaluža and Erik Štrumbelj for giving me initial feedback and suggesting missing entities.

 

References

[1] https://en.unesco.org/news/agreement-establish-international-research-centre-artificial-intelligence-ljubljana-signed

[2] https://www.forbes.com/sites/markminevich/2020/04/13/heres-how-slovenia-is-shaping-the-new-human-centric-society-and-pioneering-the-world-in-ai/#587689648602

[3] https://www.forbes.com/sites/rebeccabanovic/2019/04/07/pioneers-of-artificial-intelligence-slovenia-to-set-up-international-ai-research-centre-with-unesco/#2731d624caea

[4] https://www.enlite.ai/works/ailandscapeaustria

 

Appendix

A SELECTION OF SLOVENIAN LABORATORIES PERFORMING AI-RELATED RESEARCH

Jožef Stefan Institute

  • Artificial Intelligence Laboratory
  • Department for automation, biocybernetics and robotics
  • Department of Intelligent Systems
  • Department of Knowledge Technologies

Faculty of Computer and Information Science, University of Ljubljana

  • Artificial Intelligence Laboratory
  • Bioinformatics Laboratory
  • Computer Vision Laboratory
  • Laboratory for Adaptive Systems and Parallel Processing
  • Laboratory for Biomedical Computer Systems and Imaging
  • Laboratory for Cognitive Modeling
  • Laboratory for Computer Graphics and Multimedia
  • Laboratory for Data Technologies

Faculty of Electrical Engineering, University of Ljubljana

  • Laboratory for Machine Intelligence
  • Laboratory of Control Systems and Cybernetics
  • Laboratory of Imaging Technologies
  • Laboratory of Information Technologies
  • Laboratory of Robotics
  • The User-adapted Communications and Ambient Intelligence Lab

Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

  • Computer Architecture and Languages Laboratory
  • Institute of Informatics
  • Laboratory for Geometric Modeling and Multimedia Algorithms
  • Laboratory for Heterogeneous Computer Systems
  • System Software Laboratory

 

Topics: artificial intelligence, data science, ecosystem