On Thursday, the UvA launched the Innovation Center for Artificial Intelligence (ICAI) at its Science Park campus. In the first lab, seven PhD students will conduct research in collaboration with Albert Heijn and Bol.com. Maarten de Rijke, ICAI-director says this is just the beginning.
What is the UvA lab?
‘A part of the Innovation Center for Artificial Intelligence. In four years from now there will be twenty labs, each with a different business partner. The collective purpose is to study how to best connect products to customers, how to efficiently get products into the store, and how artificial intelligence (AI) can help.’
Why is the lab important?
‘AI is an engine for innovation and there is a shortage of Dutch AI talent. So much so that many students receive job offers before they even finish their studies... Currently we also recruit PhD students at partner companies.’
Why does the UvA cooperate with these companies?
‘We are looking to solve fascinating AI problems across all sectors, from media to healthcare to agriculture. Working together with companies means we can test our scientific methods on a large scale (Bol.com has 2 million visitors every day). We would never be able to build such a test environment as academics. But now that we can, we can optimise our algorithms.’
Science and companies… Critics might say these are strange bedfellows.
‘Universities have been collaborating with companies for decades and have financed a lot of research. Also, these are open innovation projects: we publish all our findings. The UvA lab has a long-term strategy meaning we can focus more on fundamental research: general principles on AI for retail.’
What is the lab’s ambition for the next four years?
‘To attract one-hundred million euros worth of funds though cooperation with companies and government. And to appoint one hundred PhD students.’