INTERVIEW: DRAGAN PLESKONJIĆ
ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (AI) AND MACHINE LEARNING (ML) EXPERT
"Serbia is a country of creative industries (software development and other) and agriculture"
For the position of Serbia and the region in relation to the world artificial intelligence and machine learning scene, it is important that the starting positions are still being taken, says Dragan Pleskonjić, a globally known researcher, innovator, author, adjunct professor, information security architect & adviser, focused on the field of machine learning and AI and application to information security and privacy.
We asked him to give us his opinion regarding AI in Serbian industry, and he explained that, in Serbia, there are: talent, skills, knowledge, great interest and the basis for creating a critical mass, which would definitely bring great results in future. Even more, it already resulted in some significant projects and applications of AI and ML to solve real issues and create products, solutions, and services widely welcomed and accepted.
- It is clear that economically stronger countries have better potential to advance in this area, as well as countless opportunities for funding – says Pleskonjić. – For the successful development of AI and machine learning, we need data, algorithms, tools, infrastructure, and, the most important, knowledgeable and skilled people (talent). One of the important preconditions is contained in the statement: "Data is the new oil." Without the data, there is no success in those areas. However, talent and knowledge are the most important “ingredients”. In Serbian AI ecosystem, enthusiasts have already started, made very good progress and they should be followed and supported.
What is the current situation in the area of AI in Serbia (and the region)?
- Maybe I'm not the best person to answer this question since my focus is not directed at the local market. But, I see a lot of activity, a number of usually small teams, often in the form of ad-hoc projects or start-up firms, also some teams at research institutions and inside various companies, working on very specific solutions, where it has been proven that the application of AI and machine learning can bring significant improvements and add value. Above all, it seems that, in common to every one of them, is a very high degree of enthusiasm to learn and progress. I don’t think they lag behind big world centers, even more – some very innovative solutions coming from Serbia and region taking a lot of attention. Still, the challenge they have to face is financing and supporting infrastructure in different ways and meanings. Also, some try to work with the local market, which mostly is still not that AI friendly. Secondly, I think they encounter a lot of misunderstanding, which goes into two extremes: one is that there is great distrust, or even fear because people do not know what it is; on the other hand, big expectations, where people think it will solve all problems in the shortest time. Therefore, I think it is necessary to work on raising awareness, education and setting up a supportive environment and infrastructure. Regarding that, I see the efforts of SEE-IT Summit as a positive step in the right direction.
How could AI contribute to problem-solving in Serbian automotive/agriculture/healthcare/retail/finance?
- Automotive: Potential is enormous. I personally know people from this region who lead or significantly contribute to research and development with driverless cars, connected devices, and similar projects in some of the world’s biggest companies. Additionally, my plan is that one of my next projects will be in the field of the collective intelligence of devices (so-called swarm intelligence), which can be applied in the automotive industry as well.
- Agriculture: In Agriculture, I think that there are countless possibilities. Nevertheless, we are a country of programming, IT, creative activity and agriculture! If by some chance, I would be the one who decides which directions need to be pursued in future, I would say that it is software and ICT in general, in concepts of everything that is creative activity and communication, and agriculture. IT, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and agriculture are our great potentials. By developing these areas, human work could be augmented, and the entire agriculture would be improved. This, of course, is not possible without wider support.
- Healthcare: In general, worldwide healthcare diagnostics has a lot of benefits from machine learning and AI. We need to catch that wave! We have huge amounts of data stored “somewhere” and good doctors and other medical staff, many of them have great ideas on how to improve the overall health care status. Soon, medicine and pharmacy will become personal and I think that in our health care system there are huge amounts of data stored on paper and, if used in the right way, it could significantly improve medical diagnostics. That research should be interdisciplinary and to include AI and machine learning engineers, doctors, pharmacists, software teams, etc. The area is sensitive in terms of privacy and security so solutions for this should be in place as well.
- Retail/Finance: The world banks and other financial institutions are using the AI a lot, which helps them to analyze hundreds of millions of transactions, for credit risk calculation, fraudulent transactions detection, prediction of the market etc. In retails it is used for marketing purposes, planning production and distribution of goods, predicting and recommending to customers and so on. Possibilities in retails and finance are really countless. Maybe, good point to mention here is that, in all these areas, privacy and security issues are very important. My project – INPRESEC (Intelligent Predictive Security) – is actually the implementation of AI and machine learning, applied to improve cyber-security and privacy. We have made significant advances in the prediction of what can happen in the future, in assessing the chance of cyber threats and attacks, and in prevention and detection. A solution has high performances and accuracy, with a small number of false alarms (false positives), which is very important. The speed of making the conclusions, accuracy and other performances we have achieved is really encouraging, and this research project will grow into something more, for sure.
Are there any justified anxieties that artificial intelligence will "take away" jobs?
- AI is something different and new, but I do not think that this approach is bad for itself as many trying to spread fear, uncertainty, and doubt. There will be the need for regulation, and now there is a lot of talk about ethics in artificial intelligence. These are important challenges and need to be taken care of definitely. Still, I see AI and machine learning as a help to human society, not as a threat, but more as a relief from some non-inspirational work and human focus on more meaningful and exciting activities. AI will augment our future work and jobs on the unpreceded scale. I think it will take some jobs, but it will also create new ones. Our ancestors were probably afraid of cars, electricity, phones, television, the Internet that I do not see that someone was permanently left out of work. On the contrary, new jobs were created, some of them we even couldn’t imagine before. Also, quality of life has been improved.
Attending gatherings and meet-ups, I saw that such meetings enable us to raise awareness, knowledge and energy exchange in the AI area. Therefore, I am fully supporting SEE-IT Summit, since such events create more opportunities, especially for young people who are interested in this field, to meet with those who think similar and create new things. SEE-IT Summit is, in my opinion, an excellent opportunity for people to meet, connect, to exchange ideas and experiences. From these events, new links and collaborations will start. This is important for further development of the ecosystem which will be even more fertile ground for AI and ML development in benefit of various industries and economic development. This is going to make the scene move faster toward unity and progress.