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At the launch of the AI for Belgium Coalition - attended by European Vice-President of the European Commission Andrus Ansip and  Vice Prime Minister Alexander De Croo - Caroline Pauwels, rector of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, and Pieter De Leenheer, cofounder of Belgium’s only unicorn company Collibra, unveiled their plans for a multidisciplinary AI Research Center, working in close collaboration with industry. The university also launched a call for a European AI for the Common Good initiative, a neutral research approach and policy think-thank stimulating a responsible and democratic implementation of artificial intelligence within the various sectors of society.

 

Collaborative Research Institute

The Vrije Universiteit Brussel has a long track-record in AI research since Luc Steels founded the first AI interdisciplinary research team on the European continent in 1983, which is now being led by Professor Ann Nowé, and has always been at the forefront of the debate on the ethical implications of science and technology. The institute will regroup various research groups of the university in the area of AI. It will further build on strongly established interactions with the Brussels region and European partners, as well as imec and its partners, in the framework of the Flemish AI initiative. The collaborative research center will focus on both long-term and applied research in the domain of multi-agent AI with human-like computing as the ultimate goal and particular emphasis on:

 

(a) user-centric and responsible AI,

(b) hybrid AI and collaborative cognitive robotics

(c) conscience, safety, reflection and anticipatory reasoning.

 

This multidisciplinary research group wants also to contribute to a broader policy think tank that analyses the societal and ethical implications of these technologies.

 

The institute already has an ongoing collaboration with Collibra, its successful spin-off focused on data governance that recently reached Unicorn status. Part of the plan is to create a collaborative research center with Collibra focusing on the next generation AI technology.

 

In the area of finance a joint initiative on ethical AI and regulatory technology (Regtech) will be taken with the European fintech network organization B-Hive, which has leading global institutions such as Euroclear and SWIFT among its partners, and Febelfin, The Belgian Financial Sector federation. 

 

 “This AI research center together with our university partners, strategic research institute imec, companies and organisations, wants to provide an important contribution to the Belgian AI strategy and make Brussels even further a hotspot for AI. The first important steps towards an open collaborative structure for AI have been made with our partnerships with the European fintech hub B-Hive and the Belgian Unicorn Collibra”, says VUB-rector Caroline Pauwels.

 

European Initiative on AI for the Common Good

As this debate is intensifying and the societal impact of artificial intelligence is becoming more clear it is obvious that different actors need to join forces to ensure the powerful impact of this technology is channeled towards the common good of society. Various aspects such as explainability standards, fairness appraisal, safety considerations, human-AI collaboration, and liability frameworks are among the challenges facing us. Caroline Pauwels called upon government organizations and foundations and companies to join a European AI for the Common Good initiative and pool resources to tackle the challenges and opportunities involved. “This joint neutral initiative can become a leading source of information and agenda setting not only for the future direction of this technology, but also the societal and legislative frameworks within which AI will function most optimally for the common good of the people”, concludes Caroline Pauwels.