ROBUST AI programme gets a boost of 25 million euros from the NWO

Published on: 10 January 2023

ROBUST focuses in particular on developing reliable and explainable AI technology for socially relevant issues in healthcare, logistics, media, nutrition and energy. The programme is receiving a contribution of 25 million euros from the NWO (Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research) for the coming 10 years.

The extra investment of 25 million euros comes from an NWO call that was issued at the initiative of the Netherlands AI Coalition. It is all about making AI reliable and transparent. Through long-term programmes, NWO offers strong public-private consortiums the opportunity to request funding for a ten-year period. In addition to NWO, all the participating companies and centres of expertise help ROBUST. ROBUST’s total budget is over 87 million euros, of which 7.5 million came from the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy.

Complementary to the AiNed programme

The ROBUST programme is complementary to the AiNed programme and will help mould the cooperation on dissemination, consolidation and valorisation of results, as well as retaining talent for the Netherlands. This helps with the goals stated by the cabinet’s Digital Economy Strategy of being a frontrunner in human-centric development and use of AI, the key digital technology.

170 new PhD candidates

Under the aegis of ROBUST, 17 new public-private labs are being started up that will become part of the Innovation Center for Artificial Intelligence (ICAI), taking the total to 46 labs. Within ICAI, talent and knowledge development in AI technology are key. ROBUST will recruit no less than 85 PhD candidates over the coming year, and after five years a recruitment round will follow for another 85.

Human-centric AI for sustainable growth

ROBUST unites 17 centres of expertise, 19 co-financing industrial partners and 15 social organisations from all over the Netherlands. Maarten de Rijke, a university professor in Artificial Intelligence and Information Retrieval at the University of Amsterdam, is the ROBUST programme leader. “What makes ROBUST unique is that the new labs will not just help achieve economic and technological goals, but also the UN sustainable development goals aimed at reducing poverty, inequality, injustice and climate change,” says De Rijke. “A cornerstone of all the projects is optimising reliable AI systems for qualities such as accuracy, reliability, repeatability, resilience, explainability and safety.”

Twin-win research

Just like other ICAI labs, the ROBUST labs will put the twin-win principle into practice: close public-private research collaborations in AI technology that lead to open publications and solutions that have been validated in practice. “We test our scientific findings within the context of companies. This way, the research is more likely to overlap with practice and it is easier to substantiate our understandings. We do validation work not just in labs but also in the real world.”

Start-ups, SMEs and policymakers

“AI is a system technology that touches all aspects of society. That’s why it’s important to make the development and use of AI technology a shared responsibility. ROBUST cooperates with regional social partners throughout the Netherlands, in particular with start-ups and SMEs.” The goal is not just to develop knowledge and innovations with the partners within ROBUST, but to make it more widely available to other parties throughout the Dutch ecosystem. Additionally, the insights and implications for policy will be shared with national and European policymakers.

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