Like many other countries, Belgium intends to take full advantage of the opportunities offered by AI. In order to become a European leader, it has acquired the ” National Convergence Plan for the Development of Artificial Intelligence (AI) »which was approved during the Council of Ministers on October 28 and proposes concrete actions to make Belgium a #SmartAINation.
Belgium has three regions: the Flemish Region, the Brussels-Capital Region and the Walloon Region. These have already had ambitious AI plans approved by their governments, which they are currently carrying out. Several institutes, such as FARI in Brussels, have been created to support large-scale projects within the framework of territorial priorities, programs such as the DigitalWallonia4.ai project have been put in place, initiatives like AI4Belgium have emerged.
Given the societal issues, the challenges to be met and the multiplicity of actors concerned, the integration of the potential of AI at the Belgian national level can only be done in synergy with the federated entities.
The national convergence plan for the development of AI
The plan is organized around nine objectives, retains 70 lines of action based on existing budget envelopes.
Goal #1: Promote Trustworthy AI
Although the majority of Belgian citizens believe that AI can help improve society, fears remain about its use: educational communication is needed to explain these technologies, their use and their impact. On the other hand, an ethical and legal framework guaranteeing the responsible design, development, deployment and use of these technologies must be put in place.
The plan also envisages the adoption of a governance framework for the use of AI in the federal public services, including the establishment of an advisory committee on the ethical use of AI in the operation of public services.
It also aims to develop tools to support users of AI systems, to identify algorithmic biases and fight against forms of discrimination using specialized digital tools and to actively contribute to the development of norms, standards and recommendations within the forums. international.
Objective no. 2: Guarantee cybersecurity
AI systems process large amounts of sensitive data and make important decisions: all stages of the data processing chain, from
data acquisition, training and updating of models, up to the automated decision-making process must be protected.
Among the lines of action, the plan will ensure consistency between AI, cybersecurity and privacy policies, map AI applications for cybersecurity, recruit and develop local talent within a culture of start-ups.
Objective n°3: Strengthen the competitiveness and attractiveness of Belgium thanks to AI
The adoption rate of AI in Belgium is estimated between 20 to 25%. The European Commission’s Digital Compass published in March 2021, sets the adoption rate of cloud/big data/AI technologies at 75% by 2030. It is therefore crucial to stimulate the adoption of AI by businesses, facilitate research and technology transfer.
The lines of action for this 3rd objective are, among other things, to intensify information and support initiatives for SMEs in the field of AI by involving research centers, to set up an incentive and proactive policy to retain the best AI researchers, to set up a regulatory framework allowing the use of “sandboxes/sandboxes” in order to allow companies to experiment with AI applications.
Objective n°4: Develop an economy based on data and an efficient infrastructure
After a reminder of European regulations on data, the plan stresses the importance of open data, in particular the reuse of data from public services. This strategy must be supported by high-quality infrastructure, whether in data centers or in the cloud.
The plan aims in particular to encourage companies and knowledge institutions to open their infrastructures and data to entrepreneurs and SMEs to develop new AI solutions, to improve access to cloud services, to strengthen the development of an infrastructure National and European competitive AI, which can activate AI in all stakeholders, including public services, SMEs, start-ups, research and training.
Objective n°5: AI at the heart of healthcare
In the biotech and pharmaceutical field, Belgium has a leading position. Over the past 10 years, R&D spending has grown by 166%, from 1.9 billion in 2010 to over 5 billion in 2020. As AI accelerates at full speed in this sector and changes the way whose therapies are being developed, Belgium’s ability to develop its AI expertise in this area will be crucial.
Among the list of actions, there is support for healthcare establishments during the implementation of high value-added technologies (robotic surgery, diagnostic assistance, standardization of protocols, etc.), training of healthcare professionals and technology dedicated to health but also continuing education for professionals already active.
The plan also includes adopting effective governance of medical data and studying the establishment of a regulatory platform for AI in medicine that
can revise the technological solutions through appropriate procedures and
monitor approved solutions once deployed.
Objective no. 6: At the service of more sustainable mobility
Globally, the demand for urban passenger transport will more than double between 2015 and 2050, freight transport will increase in a similar way.
This increase is already impacting the quality of life and accelerating climate change. It is necessary to put in place a proactive mobility policy, oriented towards more sustainable mobility.
The plan recommends developing and implementing a national vision of “Mobility as a Service” (Maas) and developing the foundations of a “Logistics as a Service” (LaaS) approach;
both in consultation with the Regions, to explore the potential of AI to strengthen road safety, optimize logistics, support and guide the transition to more efficient, safe, inclusive and sustainable mobility.
Objective n°7: Preserve the environment
AI can help solve some environmental problems but is also energy intensive. It is estimated that by 2025 the servers dedicated to it alone will consume 10% of the world’s electrical energy.
Among other things, the plan will make it possible to develop the Belgian computing and storage infrastructure to allow the various players to test their approaches without leaving the country’s data, it will ensure that AI contributes to a circular economy and to this that its use of AI does not result in an increased ecological footprint.
Objective n°8: Train better and throughout life
AI will impact the labor market. With automation, many jobs will disappear, but others will be created.
It will therefore be necessary to create a framework for skills upgrading, retraining and development of basic AI skills, in order to transform or improve the skills of people globally through adequate training. The plan also includes strengthening the continuous learning programs provided by educational institutions, … with a view to an ongoing training program (“Adults Reskilling Program”).
In addition, a New Learning Deal cycle of foresight workshops, called “Bright Mirrors”, on the future of work in its various aspects (both on needs, challenges, dangers, opportunities, at individual and societal level) will be organised.
Goal 9: Provide citizens with better services and better protection
This national plan aims to position the public service as an actor in AI, by placing citizens and public sector agents at the heart of the reflections, in particular with an efficient social policy driven by AI.
It is therefore necessary to identify the needs of citizens, promote the social acceptability of AI, the development of human-centered public services and strengthen the AI skills of administrative agents.
On the other hand, it will be necessary to develop AI applications to guarantee the social rights of citizens, to strengthen the accessibility of social protection and to fight against the non-use of it, as well as to support treatment and checks. in the administrative processes of the social protection sector.