Artificial Intelligence programme ROBUST receives additional €25 million in funding from NWO
The programme, which will boost fundamental research in artificial intelligence through public-private collaborations, has a total budget of over 87 million euros. ROBUST will include 17 new labs across the Netherlands and recruit 170 new PhD candidates. Altogether, ROBUST will run over a period of 10 years.
ROBUST, a new initiative by the Innovation Center for Artificial Intelligence (ICAI), is supported by the University of Amsterdam and 51 government, industry and knowledge-sector partners including Maastricht University. The programme aims to strengthen the Dutch artificial intelligence (AI) ecosystem by boosting fundamental AI research. ROBUST focuses primarily on the development of trustworthy AI technology for the resolution of socially relevant issues, such as those in healthcare, logistics, media, food and energy. The research sponsor, the Dutch Research Council (NWO), has earmarked 25 million euros for the programme for the next 10 years.
The additional €25 million grant comes from a call by the research council for Long-Term Programmes, which give strong public-private consortia the chance to receive funding for a ten-year period. The call was part of the initiative of the Netherlands AI Coalition to invest in explainable and trustworthy AI. Next to the research council, companies and knowledge institutes also contribute to the programme. The total ROBUST budget amounts to €87.3 million, of which €7.5 million comes from the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy. The ROBUST programme is complementary to the AiNed programme and will shape the collaboration on dissemination, consolidation and valorisation of the results, as well as retaining talent in the Netherlands. This contributes to the ambitions of the digital economy strategy (‘Strategie Digitale Economie’) of the Dutch government: to be at the forefront of human-centred AI development and AI applications.
ROBUST unites 17 knowledge institutions, 19 participating industry sponsors and 15 civil-social organisations from across the Netherlands. Maarten de Rijke, UvA university professor of Artificial Intelligence and Information Retrieval, is the ROBUST programme leader.
UM is involved in the TAIM Lab, which features UM's Faculty of Science and Engineering (FSE), UM's Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASoS), the University of Amsterdam and media company RTL.
Prof. Nava Tintarev (Maastricht University) is a co-Investigator in the program and the chair of the social sciences and humanities committee.
170 new PhD candidates
17 new public-private labs will be set up under the ROBUST umbrella and form part of the Innovation Center for Artificial Intelligence (ICAI), thus bringing ICAI’s lab total to 46. ICAI focuses on AI talent and knowledge development. In the coming year, ROBUST will recruit no fewer than 85 new PhD candidates, followed by another 85 in 5 years’ time.
Human-centred AI for sustainable growth
“What makes ROBUST unique is that not only will the new labs contribute to economic and technological objectives, they will also aid the United Nations’ sustainable development goals aimed at reducing poverty, inequality, injustice and climate change”, says Maarten de Rijke, university professor at the University of Amsterdam and programme leader of ROBUST. “One important focus of all projects is to optimise reliable AI systems for qualities such as precision, soundness, reproducibility, resilience, transparency and security.”
The new ROBUST labs will also aid the United Nations’ sustainable development goals aimed at reducing poverty, inequality, injustice and climate change.
Just like other ICAI labs, the ROBUST labs will put the twin-win principle into practice: intensive public-private research partnerships in AI technology, which lead to open publications and solutions that have been validated in practice. De Rijke: “We test our scientific findings within an industry context. Research and practice thus come together at an earlier stage, allowing for far better validation of the results. This way, research validation doesn’t end in the lab, but also in the outside world.”
Trustworthy AI for Media research lab at Maastricht University
As part of ROBUST, Maastricht University participates in the Trustworthy AI for Media (TAIM) Lab. The TAIM lab will consist of among others 5 PhD students, who collaborate on developing methods, metrics and tools to evaluate and improve diversity and inclusion in media. The lab will bring together two of the strongest groups on personalization and recommender systems in the Netherlands – Maastricht University and the University of Amsterdam – with leading media organization RTL. Together, they will develop trustworthy and personalized media.
In addition to leading the TAIM lab, prof. Nava Tintarev (Maastricht University, Department of Advanced Computing Sciences/FSE) is the chair of the social sciences and humanities committee of ROBUST. Tintarev: “By mixing talent working on algorithmic advances with talent working on societal embedding and uptake of technology, we will improve our algorithm development process and increase our potential for impact and achieving the sustainable development goals. That’s why 20% of all new PhD positions will be held by candidates in the social sciences and humanities, and ROBUST includes 20 senior researchers from a range of backgrounds in these fields.”
This type of interdisciplinary collaboration also takes place within the TAIM lab: on behalf of Maastricht University, both the Faculty of Science and Engineering (FSE) and the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASoS) participate.
Prof. Nava Tintarev, professor of Explainable Artificial Intelligence at Maastricht University and chair of ROBUST's social sciences and humanities committee
Startups, SMEs, and policymakers
Maarten de Rijke: “AI is a systemic technology that touches all aspects of society. That's why it's important to ensure that the application of AI technology becomes a widely shared responsibility. ROBUST collaborates with regional civil-social partners throughout the Netherlands, and especially with startups and small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).”
The objective is not only to develop knowledge and innovations with ROBUST partners, but also to make them more widely available to other parties within the Dutch ecosystem. New findings and their policy implications will also be shared with national and European policymakers.