AI4Growth puts AI on the map

The City of Ghent spoke with Wim Van Parys, one of the driving forces behind AI4Growth that puts artificial intelligence on the map.

Welcome Wim, can you explain what AI exactly is?

"AI or Artificial Intelligence stands for artificial intelligence that uses data to provide additional insights into things that are otherwise too complex. This data can be text, images, or other (sensor) data. In other words, artificial intelligence is the concept whereby machines 'think like people'. So they can reason, plan, learn and understand language.

An example is GPS, through the AI in this application you are an expert in a city you do not know. Are you in Berlin and you've never been there? No problem, thanks to your GPS you immediately know the shortest way to the station. Another example are smart cameras that automatically detect people, vehicles and other objects on images."

If we hadn't been able to ignore that competition, there would have been no AI4growth. We all recognised the higher purpose and said: let's do everything we can not to miss this opportunity.

Wim Van Parys, AI4Growth

When was AI4Growth founded?

"Some two years ago, on the initiative of UGent and Robovision, AI4Growth was founded. Soon after, Boltzmann and ML6 joined in.  So we are 4 founding members from Ghent. The question that brought us together: how could we put AI more on the map in Belgium?

So, from the start, we brought different groups and backgrounds together. Mainly the demand and supply side of AI. To look together at the needs of companies and see what solutions we can offer with AI.

In addition, we want to stimulate the interest in AI among researchers and doctoral students. We also want to show that there are very interesting AI companies in Flanders with international ambitions and job prospects. You do not have to go to Silicon Valley, London or Stockholm for this.

We were positively surprised that we were launched very quickly. In no time at all, it was a vibrant community of about twenty partners. This immediately created the necessary critical mass at our conferences and webinars.

At these events AI4Growth shows what we are currently achieving for domestic and foreign companies. By giving examples, we want to make other companies aware of the great possibilities of AI.

What does AI and organisations like AI4Growth mean for Ghent and Flanders?

"In our operation, we have made one important click. We work side by side with our competitors, or rather, with our colleagues in AI4Growth. If we had not been able to put that competition aside, there would have been no AI4growth. We all understood the higher purpose and said: let's do everything not to miss this opportunity. Such cooperation is the key to success. In this way, we can make our AI message stronger and not miss our chance. Because in technology, to stand still is to go backwards. Together we will look for good business cases and if we can implement them, it will make our companies in Flanders stronger."

This community of AI stakeholders in Flanders strives for a better understanding of AI and wants to put this technology on the map in a meaningful way in Belgium.

Wim Van Parys, AI4Growth

Is the time ripe for AI?

"The time is right because innovation is high on the agenda. It has already been shown that AI offers serious advantages, such as in medicine: AI interpretations can provide doctors and specialists with extra information in a very efficient way. These interpretations provide important support in detecting abnormalities. You can see such applications in numerous sectors."

How do you see the future of AI?

"AI support will implicitly become more and more part of our daily lives. The implicit is that we won't even notice that AI algorithms are supporting us in the background and even watching over our human actions. As long as this is done with the best of intentions, it is a step forward in our modernised living world."

What does the future look like for AI4Growth?

"As an organisation, we want to ensure a broad support base, in Flanders and beyond, so we can further facilitate AI developments in all industries. Furthermore, we continue to focus on knowledge, education and awareness among a broad audience.

From AI4Growth, we are looking, together with a number of other parties, at follow-up trajectories to set up an AI Digital Innovation Hub. This is in response to the social desire to provide broader support for the digital transformation of Flemish SMEs and European industrial sectors."