PM says AI is “major opportunity” for Czech industry

Andrej Babiš, photo: ČTK/Michal Kamaryt

The Czech Academy of Sciences hosted a two day SOLAIR conference focused on ethics in the field of artificial intelligence last week. Prime Minister Andrej Babiš took this opportunity to reiterate his belief that artificial intelligence is a major opportunity for the Czech industry and the government is hoping to secure the establishment of an EU Centre of Excellence for AI in the country.

Andrej Babiš,  photo: ČTK/Michal Kamaryt
Aside from Germany, France and Scandinavian country's, the Czech Republic is currently one of the favourites for the coveted position of holding one of the European Union’s four Centres of Excellence in the field of AI.

The prime minister has been putting a lot of emphasis on the need for the Czech Republic to make the most out of the digital revolution and become an international leader in the field of innovative technologies.

Speaking at the SOLAIR conference on Thursday, he touched on this again, stating that it was especially important for the country to develop artificial intelligence in Czech industry due to the persistent problem of a labour shortage caused by historically low unemployment.

The prime minister also said that with over 500 scientists specialised in artificial intelligence, the country has major potential in this area.

It is not the first time that Mr. Babiš has spoken boldly on the topic of artificial intelligence and digitalisation.

In January, the government presented its innovation strategy until 2031, titled, Czech Republic: The Country for the Future. The paper lays out an ambitious 12 year plan for the country to become one of Europe’s innovation leaders.

One of those who worked on the strategy is Michal Pěchouček, a professor at the Czech Technical University and Chief Techology Officer at Avast, who is an international authority in the field of artificial intelligence.

He says the bold idea does actually have potential.

“I actually do believe that the Czech Republic can become competitive in the areas that are relevant for the future of the country, if funds are appropriately directed.

“In my opinion, in the fields of AI, automation and security, the Czech Republic does have the opportunity to become very competitive.”

Michal Pěchouček,  photo: archive of ČVUT
The country has already shown itself as a capable contributor to innovative research when it comes to artificial intelligence, according to Mr. Pěchouček.

For example in the field of developing driverless cars, the Czech Technical University collaborates on research with the US automobile giant General Motors, he says.

It is not only in the field of research that the Czech Republic apparently has potential.

Mr. Pěchouček, who is also a co-founder of a number of successful AI start-ups, says that he has been surprised by the establishment of several Czech AI businesses in the past couple of years.

However, he says that more needs to be done to motivate potential Czech entrepreneurs in the field, because these tend to go straight into large corporations rather than focusing on creating their own innovative businesses.

According to a statement made earlier this year by Trade and Industry Minister Karel Havlíček, the final decision about where the European AI Centre of Excellence is located will be made in the first quarter of 2020.

The plan is for the center not be a single structure, but rather an interconnected hub of research and industrial centres.