IDEAI: responses for the future of artificial intelligence

The digitalisation fever in the business world, the automation of processes in new digital factories or the impact of social networks and new urban mobility in smart cities are only possible because of the new revolution, some say disruption, caused by the widespread emergence of artificial intelligence (AI) and smart data science. This movement, which is based on data as the main element that generates wealth, came out of universities and research centres. Once it had gathered impetus, it was adopted in economic, industrial and government spheres as a key element of change.

The success of this knowledge transfer from research centres to the business world has also involved transfer of young talent that, as a boomerang effect, has brought about a generational leap in the University. To address major projects in the Horizon Europe initiative; the real technology transfer required by our local industry; the increased social impact of our research area and particularly artificial intelligence, robotics and data science; and the bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degree courses with students from around the world we needed to create a university research centre that could face the challenges of internationalisation, interdisciplinary research and knowledge transfer.

The activity of the Specific Research Centre (CER) Intelligent Data Science and Artificial Intelligence (IDEAI-UPC) is focused on the design and development of artificial intelligence and smart data science techniques to solve problems in complex processes, respecting an ethical code that puts people at the centre of our discourse. CER IDEAI-UPC emerged through an integrative vision of researchers from six consolidated research groups at the UPC with considerable research and collaboration experience. The strength of its members, who now number 50 permanent researchers and around 150 researchers in training, can be seen in the publication of over 800 journal articles, award of over 320 competitive projects and supervision of over 120 doctoral theses. To date, 12 new projects per year (in H2020, the Spanish National Plan, and the Catalan Knowledge Industry programme) have been won on average (29 projects are ongoing currently), with almost €1M in returns in the last 4 years. In terms of training, 8–10 doctoral theses have been defended per year and 3–4 predoctoral grants have been awarded on average in competitive calls for applications.

This new vision and size has enabled us to efficiently demonstrate our efforts from the overall perspective of the UPC, adapt to an innovative, disruptive environment through a certain critical mass, and respond in the current situation in which market needs in the areas of AI, digitalisation, cognition, data science and complex systems are key.

A series of milestones can be used to verify that the proposed strategy is producing results and to determine the state of health of the new centre. In the few months that CER IDEAI-UPC has been running, a first Ethics Day for Technical Universities has been organised, five doctoral thesis have been started as a joint initiative between research groups and companies, the centre has joined the Catalan Association for Artificial Intelligence (that we helped to promote and of which we are permanent members) as institutional members, and we have started to participate in AI4EU, a European research project as a joint UPC initiative. In addition, we have participated in other dissemination and diffusion activities such as the Deep Learning Winter School and we have been involved in various round tables of experts to define AI strategy in Catalonia and Spain.

For the future, other initiatives have been initiated and still need to be fully defined and/or refocused. Three are particularly notable:

  • The creation of a bachelor’s degree course on “Artificial Intelligence and Robotics”: a disruptive, innovative subject area that our economic and social fabric requires.
  • According to Catalonia’s strategic plan in the area of artificial intelligence, Catalonia.AI, the centre will support and lead UPC participation in cooperation projects with the industrial and business sectors.
  • The definition of an ecosystem of knowledge to show Europe and the world the hub of AI stakeholders that exists in the Barcelona area.

To conclude, the combination of capacities brought about by the creation of the IDEAI-UPC Research Centre has been shown to increase the visibility and efficacy of basic and applied research at the UPC, as well as the returns to society. In the national and international scientific community, the new centre is a strong agent that can tackle and generate global knowledge in its area and attract new researchers, scientific and technological projects and external collaborations that ensure the excellence of its mission.

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