More AI is a smart move, Rathenau believes

Europe is lagging behind China and the US in the development of artificial intelligence (AI), the Rathenau Institute writes in a ‘factsheet.’ The Netherlands, too, carries out relatively little research into AI. In 2019, TU/e launched the Artificial Intelligence Systems Institute (EAISI), designed to promote research in the field of AI in Eindhoven and the Brainport region.

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The National Growth Fund announced in April that it will invest 226 million euros in Dutch AI research. That sum is part of a €2.1 billion investment program for 2021-2027. A lot of money, but is it enough? The Rathenau Institute has its doubts. Superpowers China and the United States haven’t sat idly by either. After all, expectations of artificial intelligence are high.

Carlo van de Weijer, director of EAISI and chair of the Brainport AI Hub, said in April that the allocation of 226 million euros was “excellent news” for EAISI and for the other partners in the Brainport ‘Artificial Intelligence Hub.’ “The funds that have now been granted will provide an impulse to further accelerate our cooperation,” he said at the time. “As a high-tech region, we have time and again proved capable of moving with new generations of technologies. Artificial intelligence is the key for us to anchor that position for the future as well.” EAISI is currently still located in the Gaslab, but it will move to Neuron (the renovated Laplace building) next year. When EAISI was launched in September 2019, the university said that it wanted to invest a sum of one hundred million euros in the institute.

Small player

The Netherlands certainly isn’t ahead in the AI race at this point, the factsheet published by the Rathenau Institute shows. We are a relatively ‘small player.’ Of the 314,000 AI publications between 2013 and 2018, 4,000 came from the Netherlands. That is 1.3 percent. For comparison: the Netherlands is responsible for 2.1 percent of all scientific publications, reviews and conference papers. Evidently, Dutch researchers leave a stronger mark in other fields of science.

Of the 66,500 AI researchers worldwide, 1,000 have worked in the Netherlands for a period of time. That is 1.5 percent, compared to twice as many (2.9 percent) for all fields of science combined. 

Small consolation

There’s one small consolation: Dutch research has had a relatively high impact. Americans and Canadians have higher scores – their research is cited more often by their peers –, but they are closely followed by British and Dutch researchers in shared third place, leaving Chinese and Japanese researchers far behind.

In China however, AI research has been growing rapidly during the past years, and the United States is overtaking Europe as well. And it has companies like Google.

Comparing the Netherlands to other countries remains difficult, Rathenau Institute researcher Alexandra Vennekens says. You don’t know exactly how the plans and investments will work out, or how to compare expenditures made in different countries. “But you can’t say: we have a plan in place for extra investments, so we have nothing to worry about here. You can’t brush aside this issue that easily.”

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