On Wednesday, April 26, 2023, the Malta Digital Innovation Authority (MDIA) and Times of Malta held a business breakfast on the theme AI: Threat, Opportunity or Both? The motivation behind this event was timely: artificial intelligence (AI) has taken centre stage in the discussion on emerging and innovative tech, particularly in terms of free public access, natural language processing, and conversational AI. A popular example of the latter is ChatGPT, the AI language model developed by OpenAI. Besides ChatGPT, however, there are also other natural language processing utilities out in the market, including Microsoft AI (Xiaoice), Google AI (BERT), Amazon AI (Amazon Comprehend), IBM Watson (Watson), Facebook AI (Blender) and Apple AI (Siri).
AI is not a new topic for Malta, nor the MDIA. In fact, as Malta’s leading authority on AI, the MDIA has been actively participating at European Union fora in the discussion on the need for the safe adoption of AI technology. On a national scale, the MDIA has, over the past few years, also worked on the regulatory aspects of this innovative technology, as well as the introduction and monitoring of multiple initiatives to facilitate the adoption of AI.
As a strong advocate for the safe adoption of any technology, including AI, the MDIA published AI Control Objectives as early as 2019. It also introduced the Technology Assurance Sandbox (MDIA-TAS) in 2021, with an enhanced version published in 2022. The Sandbox is a utility that guides solution owners along a customised journey with the MDIA and their Technical Expert. The goal is to develop their technical solution while aligning with established control objectives based on international standards and following a phased and gradual approach.
To continuously develop its regulatory capabilities, the MDIA will shortly be publishing its Technology Assurance Assessment Framework (TAAF), conceptualised to expand the scope of its certification. The TAAF extends technological assurances to a broader spectrum of technologies composed of both emerging innovative technologies and/or traditional technologies, including AI, operating at varying risk levels. The aim is to align technologies with international standards and industry best practices. The TAAF is targeted towards innovative technology seeking to maximise assurance value to a multitude of technology stakeholders, including sector regulators, investors, developers, suppliers, end-users and the public, by recognising the elements of information security and operational robustness. The TAAF model aims to ensure a custom assurance journey tailored to the needs of the innovative technology being presented for acknowledgment or certification. The applicant can customise the technology’s assessment journey by selecting the appropriate assessment level, applicable technologies and control types.
From a national strategic perspective, Malta has defined its national AI Strategy through diligent consultation with all relevant stakeholders, together with a comprehensive implementation plan that involves the participation of stakeholders from the public sector, the private sector and investment/start-up/research sectors. The National AI Strategy was designed to position Malta among the top 10 nations worldwide in terms of AI policy, which in Malta’s case is the first of its kind. In fact, over the past three years, Malta has forged new landscapes in the embrace of digital innovation.
In this respect, governance of the implementation of Malta’s AI strategy has been entrusted to the MDIA. The first objective was to reach an agreement with six key national stakeholders in the domains of transport, education, health, tourism, energy and customer care on the introduction of augmented digital functionality using AI as the key technology. These pilot projects have a value of €4.1 million and are intended to build the public’s trust in the use of such technologies and to serve as a learning experience for other similar projects within the public sector and beyond. The PMO team at the MDIA continues to monitor the progress of the relevant individual projects.
Another successful initiative concerning the action points derived from the AI Strategy is the Pathfinder Scholarship, now approaching its fourth consecutive call. The scholarship supports postgraduate education (Masters (MQF Level 7) and PhD (MQF Level 8) in the fields of AI, cybersecurity and other innovative technologies.
To further promote the development of novel AI initiatives, the MDIA Applied AI Research Grant supports capacity-building efforts related to AI research in Malta. Specifically, the grant encourages increased capacity for AI-related research in Malta, increased investment in AI-related R&D activities, increased adoption of AI technologies by the public and private sectors, and increased collaboration between academia and commercial entities.
Another important initiative emerging through the AI Strategy is the European Digital Innovation Hub (Malta-eDIH), entrusted to the MDIA to provide the complete set of services of an eDIH on an open, transparent and non-discriminatory basis. The project targets SMEs, small midcaps and public sector organisations, and it facilitates digital and green transformation, technical ‘Test Before Invest’ support services, digital skills and training development, and an environment that promotes networking and collaboration.
Two other initiatives recently launched by the MDIA in collaboration with Tech.mt and eSkills are the Future Innovators Summer School and xPloring Intelligence – A Bootcamp on Us and Tech. These initiatives aim to assist young minds in developing creative abilities in AI and digital innovation, skills which are essential for all career pathways across all sectors. Readers are encouraged to learn more about these schemes by visiting the MDIA’s website (specifically, the Future Innovators Summer School page and the xPloring Intelligence page).
The MDIA’s current AI Strategy implementation plan is fast reaching the end of its first term, having achieved 72% of its action points. Now, discussions are underway to define the implementation plan for 2024–2026. The MDIA invites the public to follow the progress of the implementation of the National AI Strategy online. All comments and suggestions are welcome and can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In conclusion, the MDIA’s two key attributes are worth repeating: the facilitation of technology adoption and regulation. In this context, AI can be considered both a threat and an opportunity. While AI has the potential to revolutionise industries and improve our daily lives, it also poses significant risks to society if not developed and used responsibly. Therefore, it is essential to take necessary measures to ensure that AI is developed and used in a way that benefits society and minimises risk. At the MDIA, we believe that by working together, we can harness the full potential of AI for the benefit of society as a whole.
AI: Threat, Opportunity or Both? event was held at Corinthia Hotel, St George’s Bay.