AI Policy for the Netherlands

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29 March, 2018

The Netherlands is carefully and slowly building its foundations for an AI policy and strategy. This became clear to me over the last week where Considerati arranged several meetings with some key civil servants and researchers in this space. The focus is currently on understanding the problem through research (e.g. into AI and social values, human rights, etc.) which typically conclude that more research is needed. Universities are conducting good technical research, for example the University of Amsterdam collaborating with the municipality and other businesses to create Amsterdam’s AI Hub. During the meetings, I tested and refined an ambitious policy and research idea for the Netherlands, which I’d like to briefly describe in this blog post.

Benefits of AI for the Netherlands

Countries like France, Germany, the UK, but also the US, Canada, and China are investing a huge amount of resources in theoretical and technical AI research. Given the worldwide scarcity of knowledgeable AI researchers, also in the Netherlands itself, it will be difficult and costly to try to compete on this level. There is another way to develop a competitive economy to harness the benefits that AI technologies can bring to the Netherlands, however.

The main idea is to fund applied technical research, which is supported and analyzed by social research (e.g. sociology, economics, law, policy, etc.) and humanities (e.g. philosophy and ethics). The government should provide a large amount of funding for teams to tackle specific challenges in the Dutch economy, that may be solved to some extent by applying AI technologies. This could range from making the public transport system more dynamic and reactive to demand, to privacy preserving AI technologies. Interested private sector parties then match government funding and set concrete challenges to AI researchers. A Center of Expertise should be set up for researchers from social and humanities research, who study the development of technologies, help to steer towards socially acceptable implementation, assess failures, experiment with policy and economic models.

Positive outcomes of an ambitious AI policy

Several positive outcomes emerge from such an ambitious policy and research initiative. First, the Netherlands will have experimented with the use of AI technologies in public life and private sectors and gain an edge here. Second, the successful teams working on challenges could be incentivized to further develop their solution as a start-up, thereby creating an ecosystem of new AI technology companies. Third, such an applied and social approach may incentivize researchers to move to the Netherlands, joining our universities. This in turn would help to educate more AI engineers domestically.

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Bendert Zevenbergen

Academic Liaison at Princeton University

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