The Czech Republic released its National strategy for Artificial Intelligence in May 2019 (Czech Republic, 2019). The aim of the strategy is to improve the country’s economic growth and competitiveness in AI by creating favourable policy conditions to:
- The development of a responsible and trusted AI ecosystem;
- The digital transformation of enterprises, in particular SMEs;
- The economic development of society as a whole, based on equitable opportunities and benefits in AI.
To achieve these objectives, the Czech government presents policy actions across a wide range of key areas, including education, R&D support, financing, industry, social impacts, regulation and international cooperation. The overall coordination of the AI strategy is taken up by the Ministry of Industry and Trade, while the coordination of specific key areas are assigned to their appropriate Ministry.
The strategy is structured in the following way: for each key area, the policy report highlights the responsible Ministry, the policy initiatives that will be developed, the cooperating entities, and the key objectives that are targeted at short-term (until 2021), medium-term (until 2027) and long-term (until 2035). In annex, it provides more information about the entities engaged in AI activities in the country, with figures on the number of employees and researchers, the scientific fields covered and the funding estimations for both the public and private sector.
The funding estimations presented in the annex of the strategy report a total of CZK 9.5 million for research teams in AI in the coming years (including national and international funding programs). Estimations for the private sector are less clear given that figures are based on a survey of 50 companies.
As of August 2019, the Czech national topic in the area of AI is “Artificial Intelligence for citizen's safety and security,” that builds on specific historical experience and track record. To emphasize a common commitment in this regard, a memorandum of cooperation was signed between the Ministry of Industry and Trade and top-level research teams from technical universities. The Czech government wants to pursue the positive narrative of AI technologies as the most suitable tool to ensure the safety of European citizens, which is the very precondition for the true implementation of fundamental rights.
With respect to education, the Czech Republic recognises the need to reform the primary, secondary and higher education towards new ways of learning AI. Primary and secondary education systems will integrate courses on IT, digital literacy and AI, but equally courses on soft skills such as creative thinking. Higher education reforms include dedicated Masters Programs and doctoral studies in AI. Teacher support will also be provided. To support educational transformation, the Czech Republic can take stock of its ongoing Strategy for digital education (language: Czech) which aims to respond to the continuous development of digital technologies in teaching curricula.
The Czech strategy emphasises the importance to continuously support the current and upcoming labour force by means of lifelong learning, vocational training and reskilling opportunities. Given the increasing pace of AI transformations in society, educational reforms should be constantly aligned with changes in the labour market. To this purpose, the Czech government will regularly monitor the impact of technological changes on the labour market. It will commission prediction analyses to estimate the extent in which AI may impact future losses and creations of jobs. Predictions for the future requirements of the labour market will be systematically monitored and inserted into the National Register of Professions and the Central Competence Database. The collected information will then be used to develop dedicated support to labour market adaptations and to promote the development of new job opportunities through career guidance, increased worker mobility and reskilling opportunities.
From the lab to the market
A successful deployment of AI can only be achieved with sufficient support to basic and applied research in the field of AI. To this purpose, the Czech government will participate in establishing a Centre of Excellence in AI Research, Digital Innovation Hubs and a Centre for Humanities and Social Science to analyse the impact of AI on the economy.
One of the main priorities of the Czech Republic is to encourage breakthrough innovations in AI by developing an efficient entrepreneurial ecosystem in the field of AI. Local economic activity and AI innovations will be stimulated through the creation of an Innovation Hub in AI (IHAI), funded by CzechInvest, and through the establishment of start-up support programs and accelerator instruments, among others.
The Czech Government has introduced the new 2019-2030 Innovation Strategy with a clear roadmap to improve the entire innovation system, from strategic management, through education and research to the monitoring of the latest trends and the development of digital and other modern technologies, and skills.
As an implementation tool for the Innovation Strategy, the Ministry of Industry and Trade has prepared “The Country for the Future” (CFF) programme to support in its first chapter the emergence of innovative companies, the development of digital services and the deployment of R&D-based innovations with overall allocation of CZK 6.1 billion. The second chapter of the CFF Programme (called The Digital Leaders) anticipates the national co-financing of the Digital Europe Programme. The programme also focuses on the support of establishing and internationalisation of start-ups in its third chapter.
The Czech strategy foresees a wide range of financial instruments to support the development of AI in the private and public sector. The Centre of Excellence in AI research will be financed through the Digital Czech Republic program, resources of the City of Prague ad private partners. In the long-term, the Czech Republic also considers to set up grant programs for AI that could be funded by the Grant Agency of the Czech Republic (GA CR) and the Technology Agency of the Czech Republic (TA CR). In addition, market-based financial instruments of the Czech-Moravian Guarantee and Development Bank will be created to improve the access to finance for AI businesses. Other AI developments could be funded by European initiatives such as Digital Europe, Horizon Europe, and Connecting Europe Facility, among others. The Czech government will also develop specific support grants and investment programs for SMEs, start-ups and spinoffs with highly innovative services and business models. While most financing tools are targeting the private sector, Czech Ministries consider developing start-up support programs focusing on AI applications in the public sector.
In addition to these financial instruments, alternative and new forms of financing will be advanced. The effectiveness of support programs will be regularly evaluated based on AI mapping in order to update them where needed.
In terms of networking, the Czech strategy foresees a series of policy recommendations to foster both national and international partnerships. This will be done by connecting domestic and foreign entities to implement joint AI projects. Among others, the Czech government suggests to integrate AI as a theme into the V4 priorities in order to increase collaboration in this field across Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary. Also bilateral collaborations are considered such as the Czech-German strategic dialogue on research, development and innovation, the Czech-French Strategic partnership on digitisation or the Czech-Slovak partnership on dual education and industry 4.0. Finally, the Czech government increase networking opportunities through its active participation in working groups of international organisations (EU, OECD, UN), through the creation of the European Centre of Excellence in AI Research and through the establishment Digital Innovation Hubs.
A program will be set up to increase collaborations between SMEs, start-ups and scientific research centres. Among others, the Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (language: Czech) programme aims to support the development of mutually beneficial cooperation between the business community and research organizations. The Czech Republic will also launch calls for tenders specifically targeting AI developments in multidisciplinary teams. In addition, an expert group composed of representatives of academia, public and private sector will be put in place to support and develop collaborative investments programs in AI.
In order to increase the international attractiveness of the country, the Czech government foresees various policies to attract and retain foreign talent in AI. Among others, the Czech strategy mentions the revision of the Act on the Residence of Foreigners and long-term residence permits for scientific researchers. The upcoming governmental program will introduce simplified and accelerated procedures to acquire a residence and a working permit for researchers and their family members. Scientific researchers will be allowed to stay in the country up to nine months after the completion of their work contract to allow them to search for a job in the country.
To capture the dissemination and uptake of AI in the economy, the Czech Republic is recommending promotion campaigns to foster the national and international interest in the Czech AI ecosystem. To this purpose, the Ministry of Industry and Trade, in collaboration with CzechInvest, the Confederation of Industry and AICZECHIA, has prepared an interactive web mapping application displaying subjects from the private sector as well as from the academia and other institutions involved in artificial intelligence activities in the Czech Republic. This tool is not only useful to follow the development progress of AI in the country, but can considerably increase the potential to obtain financial support from investors and can attract foreign talents to the Czech Republic. More in-depth analyses will also be launched to analyse the socio-economic impacts of the technological changes due to AI developments.
The development of human-centric AI requires an effective regulatory environment to ensure the protection of fundamental rights and clear-cut definitions of responsibilities, intellectual property rights and liabilities. To provide regulatory guidance for a successful development of AI, the Czech strategy has a dedicated section on legal and social aspects of AI, ethical rules, consumer protection and security issues.
The overall objective is to create and define ethical and legal rules to alleviate any regulatory constraint to the development of AI technologies. In first instance, the Czech Republic will identify which sectors are refrained in their research and development efforts in AI due to obsolete or inexistent legislation. During this exercise, particular attention will be devoted to issues of data access, data ownership and (personal) data protection. A sector-specific approach is recommended given the different nature of legislation that will be required in each sector. The Czech Republic well establish an AI Committee to work for instance on new legislation for autonomous cars. Other examples relate to the development of certificates and standardisation in the field of cybersecurity, and specific data regulations for the health care sector. Regulatory sandboxes will be used to create optimal conditions for testing AI concepts.
Legislation reforms will not only target the private sector (and in particular legal frameworks towards new business models and start-ups in AI), but it will also be directed to the public sector. In a second phase, public consultations will be used to gather feedback and recommendations from relevant stakeholders. Lastly, the Czech Republic has launched the AI Observatory and Forum (AIO&F), an expert platform on legal aspects of AI. The aim of the AIO&F is to contribute to creation of a favourable social and legal environment for research, development and use of beneficial and responsible AI. System audits in the public and private sector are also considered to detect and assess the existence of legal barriers that should be addressed.
Recognising that data is one of the most important prerequisites for AI developments, the Czech government pays special attention to the provision of a well-functioning data infrastructure. To this purpose, the Czech strategy will set up an open data portal to facilitate the access to high-quality databases of the public administration. In addition, the Czech Republic also set up a National Strategy on Open Access to Research Information (language: Czech) for the years 2017-2020 to initiate a gradual process of implementation of open access to scientific information at national level.
The provision of high-quality data will be further fostered through the modernisation of the digital and telecommunication infrastructure. The Czech government will expand the IT4Innovations national supercomputing centre and will actively participate in the European EuroHPC project for supercomputing facilities. As highlighted in the Digital Czech Republic strategy, one of the priorities of the government in the coming years is also to enhance the connectivity by improving the internet infrastructure and deploying 5G networks in the country.
To this purpose, the Ministry of Industry and Trade of the Czech Republic and the Bavarian State Chancellery have been working to create a common 5G-corridor between Munich and Prague. This 5G-corridor project should become an active part of the European Commission's "Connecting Europe Facility" program under the multiannual financial framework 2021-2027.
While the national AI strategy of the Czech Republic is coordinated by the Ministry of Industry and Trade, an AI committee has been established to supervise its implementation. The AI committee is a subcommittee of the Steering Committee of the Digital Czech Republic strategy. The strategy consists of seven chapters, each with a dedicated working group targeting a specific key area on education, R&D support, financing, industry, social impacts, regulation and international cooperation.
Each working group should follow-up to fulfil the objectives of the strategy according to their respective responsibilities. Once a year, an interim report will be submitted to the Steering Committee and the government to inform about the progress of the strategy implementation.
AI Watch is the European Commission knowledge service to monitor the development, uptake and impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI) for Europe, launched in December 2018.
The OECD AI Policy Observatory (OECD.AI) is an inclusive hub for public policy on AI. It aims to help countries encourage, nurture and monitor the responsible development of trustworthy AI systems for the benefit of society.
Last update: 05-Aug-2020