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The future of AI for The Netherlands

On Thursday the 21st of March, the first ever edition of the ‘Nederland Digitaal Dag’ took place in Hilversum. Goal of this conference? Working together in forming the Dutch strategy aimed at steering today’s rapid technological advancements.

The overarching theme of ‘Nederland Digitaal Dag’ was Artificial Intelligence (AI). As a Dutch AI company operating on a global level, Dashmote was invited to participate in the ongoing debate regarding this topic. Following the many sessions that took place, we would like to share four main takeaways from these sessions and our thoughts on them.

Data is NOT the new oil

Yes, you read that correctly. After the official kickoff, Google’s Chief Economist Hal Varian took to the stage. While data is often called the ‘oil of the 21st century’, Varian disagrees. The only similarity he finds is that ‘like oil, data must be refined before it becomes useful’. In other words, it has to be turned into information, knowledge and understanding.

Varian points towards data’s non-monopolistic characteristics. Oil can’t be in the hands of two enterprises at the same time while the same data can be possessed by multiple people at the same time.

Data has the potential to be excludable as a result of intellectual property protection and privacy regulations, but it is not a given as it is in the case of oil. This holds an abundance of opportunities but presents certain risks as well. Considering the latter, Varian concluded that ‘we need a regulatory environment that encourages the good things and discourages the bad things’.

Dashmote Beer Market

We need to talk about Ethics in AI

This is where the topic of ethics comes in. Although some found that the discussion was sliding too much towards the topic of ethics at times, we strongly believe that ethics are a major talking point in moving forward.

The High-Level Expert Group, appointed by the European Commission, is one example of this more permanent development. The group’s goal is to form ‘recommendations on future-related policy development and on ethical, legal and societal issues related to AI, including socio-economic challenges’. They presented their first draft of Ethics Guidelines for the development and use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) at the end of last year.

Further underlining the significance of ethics in relationship to data, Sybo Dijkstra, the Global Head of Data Strategy & AI at Philips, advises companies to examine their code of conduct along three criteria. Is it lawfully, ethically, and socio-technically robust? ‘Companies should not hide behind the fact that something is legal’. In other words, something that is legal does not mean it is also ethical. Think about how your product could be misused by wrongdoers. ECP, a knowledge platform focused on the information society, has developed an extensive tool to support businesses in making such considerations: the Artificial Intelligence Impact Assessment.

Wait, what about China?

12 minutes into discussing the Netherlands’ digital position in geopolitical and global trade, Martijn Hos from was quick to point out that nobody had yet mentioned China.

Hos addressed China’s leading role on the world stage when it comes to AI. Having experienced China’s ambitious push towards AI solutions firsthand, we strongly agree with Hos that we should indeed be looking at the Middle Kingdom to evaluate the Netherlands’ and the European Union’s position in all this.

China is currently leading in terms of actually implementing AI solutions, investing in AI businesses, and closing in on the US when it comes to research. We believe European businesses should consider this a given and work together while not losing sight of our own liberal values.

Guarding the Freedom of Information

This brings us to the matter of governance. According to Kristina Irion, rules formulated by the European Union alone will simply not survive. We agree with Kristina, pessimistic though the reflection may seem.

Non-tariff trade barriers that function as a new form of digital protectionism are on the rise worldwide. The number of countries implementing restrictions on the free flow of data is on the rise. Trade negotiations nowadays often contain paragraphs either enforcing or preventing such measures and the WTO has been examining ways to address the issue. An example of this is NAFTA’s so-called ‘algorithm clause’, which strongly limits ‘a government’s ability to force tech startups to disclose proprietary computer source code and algorithms’.

We personally believe that we’re currently standing on a crossroads that can take us two ways. Either the worldwide free flow of data will remain as such, or we enter into a balkanization of the internet. Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt has already predicted that the internet will split up in two around 2028. We agree with him. Stakeholders from all sectors should work together to prevent such a situation while still establishing sustainable and appropriate forms of digital governance.

What’s next for The Netherlands and AI?

First of all, the cabinet will present a strategic plan of actions focused on seizing opportunities for the Netherlands in AI, while simultaneously addressing the associated risks. This will happen by summer at the latest.

Next to this, initiated by ‘Nederland ICT’, businesses will start working on implementing an ethical code of conduct. VNO-NCW and MKB-Nederland together have launched a National AI coalition aimed at making The Netherlands the center of AI innovation in Europe. As a result, this year alone, 10 AI labs will be set up in collaboration with Dutch knowledge institutions in Amsterdam and Utrecht, among other cities.

All outcomes of the conference can be found in this document (in Dutch). We’re looking forward to seeing all of these initiatives develop and will remain active in ongoing debates concerning AI in order to contribute wherever possible.