Celebrating five years of MDIA: National AI strategy & vision realignment conference

Category: AI Europe Regulatory

The MDIA (Malta Digital Innovation Authority) today held National AI Strategy & Vision Realignment Conference in celebration of its five years anniversary.

Minister Schembri’s Vision for Malta’s Tech Ecosystem

Hon. Minister Silvio Schembri delivered the opening speech and highlighted the historical significance of this milestone, reflecting on the journey since the launch of the MDIA in 2018.

The MDIA, established to promote Malta as a hub for innovative technologies, has played a pivotal role in the nation’s digital progress. Acknowledging the rapid evolution of technology, Minister Schembri discussed Malta’s pioneering regulatory system for blockchain-based businesses and its commitment to shaping policies for emerging technologies. He emphasized the government’s strategic approach in adopting AI, emphasizing ethical considerations, transparency, and social responsibility. In conclusion, Minister Schembri reiterated the government’s dedication to technological innovation, emphasizing the importance of education, a robust legal framework, and ethical considerations to foster a thriving ecosystem for the future.

MDIA’s Evolution and Future Plans

The same sentiment was expressed by MDIA Chairperson Wayne Grixti, who expressed gratitude and reflected on the organization’s journey. Addressing the challenges faced, including the monopoly, the pandemic, and organizational changes, Grixti emphasized the need for reflection, consultation, and renewal. He marked the occasion as the beginning of “MDIA 2.0,” hinting at the upcoming changes to be detailed by the new CEO, Kenneth. Grixti reminisced about MDIA’s early days, recalling the curiousity and interest it garnered. He highlighted MDIA’s pivotal role in Malta’s tech ecosystem, contributing to a remarkable 300 percent growth in the country’s digital economy over the past decade. Reflecting on the initial skepticism surrounding MDIA’s policies, Grixti acknowledged the current recognition of the authority’s expertise and emphasized the importance of embracing innovation. Grixti outlined MDIA’s strategic objectives for 2025, focusing on service provision, governance, policy, and PR and communications. He underscored the commitment to fostering trust in innovative technologies and the importance of collaboration with other entities.

CEO Kenneth Brincat’s Transformative Vision

The first keynote speech was delivered by Kenneth Brincat, CEO of the Malta Digital Innovation Authority (MDIA), who emphasized the transformative journey of MDIA in the rapidly evolving landscape of technology. The CEO highlighted MDIA’s evolution, initially focusing on regulatory and certification programs, with a shift in priorities triggered by the digital transformation accentuated by the challenges of 2020. MDIA expanded its role to not only regulate but also facilitate and promote digital innovation globally. The CEO outlined MDIA’s role in policy development, cybersecurity, and technology assessment, unveiling new legislative frameworks to enhance agility in regulating emerging technologies. Brincat also announced a reduction in fees to attract companies interested in MDIA frameworks.

Prof. Joshua Ellul’s Keynote on Regulatory Challenges

Prof Joshua Ellul followed with his keynote and commended the Minister and MDIA leadership for their dedication to navigating the ever-changing landscape of technology innovation. Prof Ellul, highlighted the motivation behind establishing the authority, emphasizing the need for regulations in response to the Wild West of crypto in 2017-2018.

He explained the initial focus on securing users and consumers from scams and the loss of millions of euros in the crypto space globally. Prof Ellul discussed the challenges posed by emerging technologies such as blockchain, distributed ledger technologies (DLPs), and AI, questioning the necessity of regulating these technologies that can have far-reaching societal impacts.

Prof Ellul discussed Malta’s progressive stance on crypto regulations, noting that the European Union (EU) is yet to catch up with the country’s level of assurances. He highlighted the challenges posed by decentralized code and urged the need for assurances in rapidly evolving technologies like AI.

Looking ahead, Prof Ellul encouraged Malta to remain at the forefront of technology regulation, leveraging its five-year head start when the EU implements more regulations. He pondered the role of regulatory technology in achieving assurances through decentralized code and AI, signalling a potential avenue for future exploration.

Prof. Gordon Pace: MDIA’s Transformative Approach to Shape the Future

In a recent keynote address, Prof. Gordon Pace, University of Malta, provided insights into the forthcoming AI strategy set to guide the nation through 2023-24. Emphasizing the need to look beyond the past and focus on the future, Prof. Pace outlined MDIA’s commitment to regulating, encouraging, and supporting the growth of AI.

Reflecting on the implementation process, Prof. Pace stressed the need for agility in strategy, given the rapid evolution of technology. He underlined the importance of aligning the strategy with global developments, particularly in response to the EU’s AI Act and the changing landscape of ethical considerations.

As MDIA prepares for the 2023-24 strategy, Prof. Pace detailed the stakeholder-heavy consultation process initiated in August 2023. The involvement of diverse stakeholders, including private sector users and developers of AI, is seen as pivotal in ensuring relevance and ownership of the upcoming strategy.

Prof. Pace unveiled the structure of the upcoming strategy, emphasizing its alignment with local and international policies, the EU AI Act, advancements in AI technology, and emerging ethical frameworks. The strategy’s core will focus on key elements: data, infrastructure, cultivating an informed public and skills, and regulation and policy transformation.

Recognizing the need for ongoing relevance, Prof. Pace emphasized the incorporation of monitoring and realignment mechanisms directly into the strategy. This approach aims to maintain an agile and adaptive strategy, minimizing the need for major overhauls.

In conclusion, Prof. Pace invited feedback from stakeholders on the strategy’s structure, process, and the identification of niche areas. The interactive and consultative approach underscores MDIA’s commitment to a collaborative and inclusive vision for Malta’s AI future.

Panel Discussion on AI and Well-being

In the first panel discussion, entitled “Exploring the Intersection of AI and Well-being, and How it Contributes to Sustainability,” experts gathered to delve into various aspects of technology, regulations, and their impact on society. The panel, moderated by Mr. Trevor Sammut, Senior Technology Architect at MDIA, featured prominent figures in the field, including Prof. Alexiei Dingli – Professor of AI, University of Malta; Perit David Xuereb – Chairperson, Malta Council for Economic and Social Development; Dr. Deandra Cutajar – Data Scientist and Dr. Ian Gauci – Managing Partner, GTG.

The conversation began with a focus on education, as Mr. Sammut highlighted the crucial role of education in understanding and dispelling irrational fears surrounding AI technology. Prof. Dingli emphasized the importance of educating teachers about the potential of AI, particularly in the context of Chedricity, an accessible technology that allows children to interact with teachers and complete assignments online.

Prof. Dingli encouraged educators to view AI as a tool that provides “superpowers” to teachers, enabling them to accomplish tasks more efficiently and creatively. He emphasized the need for a national education strategy to equip teachers with the skills needed to adapt to the changing educational landscape.

The discussion also touched upon the responsibility of using AI tools appropriately, with Prof. Dingli sharing a personal experience about guiding his own children in using AI for educational purposes while emphasizing the importance of academic honesty.

Moving on to the ethical aspects of AI, Dr. Deandra Cutajar addressed the inherent biases present in data, acknowledging that bias is a reflection of human input. She highlighted the need for understanding the source of bias, distinguishing between discriminatory and non-discriminatory bias, and employing human intervention to mitigate biases.

Perit David Xuereb shifted the focus to the societal impact of AI and automation, emphasizing the potential for a significant economic revolution. He discussed the importance of upskilling and reskilling the workforce to ensure a just transition that benefits individual well-being and sustains economies in the face of technological advancements.

The panel also explored the regulatory landscape, with Dr. Ian Gauci shedding light on the recently introduced EU AI Act. Dr. Gauci detailed the act’s focus on defining AI, identifying high-risk applications, and implementing conformity assessment processes. He highlighted the role of standards in shaping the legal provisions and ensuring accountability in AI deployment.

In conclusion, the panelists underscored the need for a balanced approach to AI, combining technological advancements with ethical considerations, education, and regulatory frameworks. The exploration of AI’s intersection with well-being and sustainability continues to be a critical conversation as society navigates the evolving landscape of artificial intelligence.

Economic Transformation through AI: Second Panel Discussion

The second and final panel discussion was titled “Catalysing Economic Transformation, Fostering Innovation, and Shaping Industry through AI,” recently took place, moderated by Mr. Gavril Flores, Chief Officer of Strategy, Policy, and Governance at MDIA. The panelists included Ms. Abigail Mamo, CEO of Malta Chamber of SMEs; Dr. Daniela Castillo, Lecturer at the University of Malta; and Mr. Gilmour Camilleri, Chief Economist at Malta Fiscal Advisory Council.

The conversation delved into the economic context amidst global changes, wars, and the transformative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mr. Camilleri provided a comprehensive overview, highlighting Malta’s unexpected economic growth, particularly in the face of challenges such as rising import costs and supply chain disruptions.

A key focus was on the need to reshape Malta’s economic model. Mr. Camilleri stressed the importance of moving towards higher value-added sectors, emphasizing the role of artificial intelligence (AI) and the digital world in achieving this transformation.

The discussion shifted to the strategic alignment of AI, with Ms. Mamo underscoring the importance of advancing AI at the machine level and increasing the adoption of AI by businesses. She highlighted the European target of having 75 percent of companies using AI in the coming years and emphasized the need for businesses to view digital investments as valuable pillars in their strategies.

Dr. Castillo brought attention to the challenges and opportunities in AI adoption. She discussed customer expectations and the importance of transparency when interacting with AI systems. The conversation also touched on the potential of AI in enhancing customer service, personalization, and data-driven decision-making.

The panelists collectively emphasized the importance of collaboration between academia, industry, and government to overcome challenges in AI adoption. The role of academia in conducting rigorous research and providing valuable insights for businesses was underscored.

In conclusion, the panelists agreed that Malta, with its small but dynamic economy, has a unique opportunity to leverage AI for economic growth. The collaborative efforts of government, businesses, and academia will be crucial in realizing Malta’s potential as a hub for AI-driven innovation.

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