KTU and partners’ joint Centre of Excellence will develop researchers’ competences and AI solutions in key sectors of the country

Sustainability | 2023-09-19

As artificial intelligence (AI) solutions become increasingly popular in many areas of everyday life, Lithuanian researchers, together with international partners, are creating a joint Centre of Excellence of AI for Sustainable Living and Working (SustAInLivWork). According to the project manager, KTU professor Agnė Paulauskaitė-Tarasevičienė, AI will transform the ways we produce things, organise healthcare, manage energy supply and solve transportation issues.

SustAInLivWork project manager says that despite Lithuania’s innovation performance being on the rise, reflecting a relatively high share of the population with higher education, increased digitalisation, and better product and business process innovation, the country is still perceived as being on the moderate side on European Innovation Scoreboard.

Prof Agnė Paulauskaitė-Tarasevičienė
Prof Agnė Paulauskaitė-Tarasevičienė

“It is not a secret that, in the coming years, AI will have a significant impact on the world’s GDP, which is expected to increase by 14% by 2030 due to accelerated development and deployment of AI solutions. Currently, Lithuania has a strong AI community with an emerging AI ecosystem and is considered an economy with moderate AI foundations, with a potential for a significant economic impact,” said Paulauskaitė-Tarasevičienė, the Head of the Kaunas University of Technology AI Centre.

The SustAInLivWork project, which opening event AI for Sustainable Future was held on 14 September, aims to create a joint Centre of Excellence in Lithuania, which would act as a lighthouse, making a significant impact on strengthening the research and innovation ecosystem nationally and internationally.

The Centre of Excellence is based on long-term strategic cooperation between four Lithuanian Universities – KTU, Lithuanian University of Health Sciences (LSMU), Vytautas Magnus University (VMU) and VILNIUS TECH, – and two advanced partners – Tampere University (Finland) and Hamburg University of Technology (Germany).

Four key sectors

According to the Lithuanian AI Strategy, the development of AI in the country should focus on four key sectors: manufacturing, health, energy, and transport. The project has involved a lot of discussion and debate on how AI in manufacturing could optimise supply chain management, quality control through computer vision, enable predictive maintenance, and improve the efficiency of operations with autonomous robots.

The project touched on the important role AI plays in healthcare too, because it greatly improves healthcare research and outcomes by helping to make accurate diagnoses and facilitating personalised treatments, as it can process large amounts of data, understand diseases, and provide early detection and prediction. “By applying AI in hospitals and clinics, healthcare systems can become smarter, faster, and more efficient in delivering healthcare to millions of people around the world,” said Paulauskaitė-Tarasevičienė.

Regarding the energy grid, AI highlights its potential across the generation, transmission, and consumption of electricity: AI can enhance reliability by harnessing the power of data analytics and intelligent decision-making paving the way for a smarter and more sustainable energy future.

Prof Dr Tomas Krilavičius
Prof Dr Tomas Krilavičius

“AI-driven technologies in transportation and logistics can push this industry forward, through acceleration and optimisation, as AI can bring many benefits to the transport sector, such as traffic optimisation, vehicle tracking, predictive fleet maintenance, and accident likelihood prediction. But these AI applications are just a glimpse of the vast potential that benefits various industries and our daily lives,” said the expert.

Many AI applications are already in use

Although AI can be utilised in a variety of ways in different areas, Prof Dr Tomas Krilavičius, the Dean of the Faculty of Informatics at VMU, who participated in the AI for Sustainable Future event discussion between project partners, articulated that AI is most effective when used as an aid to making difficult decisions.

“Probably the best way to utilise AI is to use it as a decision support system when it comes to rather complex things. But to properly use the system, you have to understand how it works,” said Krilavičius.

The application of AI indeed has its challenges, one of which is to reach a consensus on what AI solutions are and how to use them. Arnas Karužas, a researcher at the LSMU, one of the strategic partners of the SustAInLivWork project, highlighted that sometimes medical practitioners do not even realise that they are already applying AI in their practice.

“The issue we need to combat is that physicians are not so much aware of using AI solutions every day. When I ask my colleagues, have you ever used an AI solution practice, they think for a moment and say, ‘No, probably not.’ However, they have examination room equipment with an AI solution installed that they use every day. Although we have a lot of data about AI in various areas of medicine, especially in imaging, but we are lacking clinical implementation and good clinical practice examples with AI solutions,” said Karužas.

Arnas Karužas
Arnas Karužas

According to the expert, AI can improve diagnostics and patient treatment if the physicians are familiar with AI applications in their casual workflow: “If we, as physicians, can think of AI as an assistant or as a second opinion, we can work more efficiently and become much better physicians.”

Will AI replace professionals?

In media, the issue of AI replacing humans at work has become rather topical, recently. According to the President of the Association INFOBALT Rima Valentukevičienė, AI will not replace all professionals – only those, who are not able to use AI.

“There was a survey done studying people who are seeking to gain some AI knowledge. Its results show that 40% of the workforce needs reskilling and upskilling to perform their current role in the next one to three years perspective. So, it means that all businesses are going through a transformation and even if you’re meeting all your expectations in your current job, you have to get some reskilling and education on all technological tools. Probably, mostly on the usage of AI,” said Valentukevičienė.

Harri Nieminen
Harri Nieminen

Harri Nieminen, Head of Sustainable Industry X (SIX) initiative at VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd., highlighted that many people perceive AI, its algorithms, and models as black boxes – there is a lack of in-depth understanding. Yet the need for a skilled workforce for developing, implementing, and maintaining AI-based systems is rapidly growing.

“When it comes to knowledge and competence creation, universities have a vital role in this process. Creating this much-needed new information about AI means a lot of research and scaling it back to the future talents serving our industry. But to be honest, these knowledge barriers and issues are complex and require collaboration among different stakeholders: businesses and education institutions,” said Nieminen.

To understand AI to improve it

Dr Alexander Schlaefer, Professor of the Institute of Medical Technology and Intelligent Systems at one of the project’s advanced partners Hamburg University of Technology, emphasised that the SustAInLivWork project is not only about educating society and industry professionals on AI application but also improving this tool as well.

“I believe too often AI is sold as a certain magical potion, as if we just take some data, add some algorithms, and get the solution. However, AI is a tool and typically something that requires interdisciplinary collaboration because you can use a tool only if you understand the tool. On the other hand, we desperately need somebody who understands the tool to a level to make it better. And that’s also where this project is aiming at,” said Schlaefer.

AI for Sustainable Future
AI for Sustainable Future

The activities of the Centre include intelligent systems modelling, development, maintenance, support, and application of data storage infrastructure, training, and courses incorporating good practices on how to integrate AI solutions while ensuring sustainability in the private and public sectors.

“Businesses also can expect a range of advantages, including high-value personalised training, access to facilities, equipment, and the pool of ideas. They will be able to influence research directions, shape the next generation of industry-ready talents, and increase their R&D capacity,” said the project manager Paulauskaitė-Tarasevičienė.

The implementation of the Centre of Excellence is based on three main phases: in the launching phase, all the operational structures and infrastructure will be set up, in the growth phase the activities of CoE will be gradually expanded, and after 6 years, the SustAInLivWork CoE revenue is hoped to cover its operating costs and ensure its long-term self-sustainability offering services to private and public sectors.

Co-funded by the European Union. Project grant agreement No 101059903 for the Teaming for Excellence measure of the European Union’s Horizon Europe programme. National Funding Agreement No 10-042-P-0001.