Meet Our Members – KInIT – Maria Bielikova
We connected with an inspiring woman, Professor Mária Bieliková, Director General of KInIT. She tells us more about their institute, research, science and the decision to settle in Bratislava's HubHub.
Please tell us something more about the Kempelen Institute of Intelligent Technologies.
The Kempelen Institute of Intelligent Technologies (KInIT) is an independent institute that deals with research into intelligent technologies – artificial intelligence and several informatic areas connected with other disciplines.
However, what I consider to be the most important is what we want to achieve, which helps us create a trustworthy environment in a passionate people team. The primary goal of the Kempelen Institute is the concentration of talent. We want to change the outflow of skilled people from Slovakia, which has reached alarming proportions in the last ten years, to the circulation. This is not only from a geographical point of view, but also from a sectoral point of view. We have the ambition to improve research in business, companies and other organisations.
We strive to share knowledge and experience and develop with each other, thus increasing the innovation potential. To do this, we need to raise the level of smart technology research to that of Europe and the rest of the world. Internationalisation and a better connection with the world will not only be useful for us, but also for the entire academic sector in Slovakia.
What inspired you to establish the Kempelen Institute?
In the beginning, it was the belief that Slovakia as a country can approach the biggest European and world players only if it has a critical mass of skilled and active people. Support and the education of leaders are crucial in Slovakia. In this country, we observe a relatively large outflow of young people abroad. For example, according to the latest survey, more than 50% of the most skilled graduates with the potential for informatics study abroad. For us all to be better and for the weaker to be taken care of, we need distinctive, enterprising and committed experts. My colleagues and I have been striving for this for a long time.
When the opportunity arose to develop this idea in an independent institute last year, we decided to take it. KInIT has a huge amount of potential to convince young people that there are many great employment opportunities in Slovakia, and we can help them grow.
KInIT is a new element in its form and area of operation in the Slovak ecosystem of research, education and innovation. But abroad, such institutes exist, often with state support. Slovakia should not be an exception.
In your opinion, what will be the most significant contribution of the Kempelen Institute to Slovak science?
The Kempelen Institute, with its strong connection to industry and its solid academic background combined with experience from abroad, has the potential to attract skilled people to Slovakia. To maximise this effect, KInIT has collaboration deeply encoded in its DNA. Opportunities for all other players in Slovakia will be created together with the growth and development of the Kempelen Institute. This applies to everyone to whom science and research are important: universities, the Slovak Academy of Sciences, innovative companies and the state.
We believe that we will contribute to cutting-edge and responsible research in an area that is currently very important for society. We also deal with issues of ethics in information technologies, specifically in artificial intelligence.
What is the most pressing ethical question associated with AI? Do we have to be afraid of AI, or can we have it, so to speak, in our hands?
There are more questions. They relate to the safeguarding of fundamental human values such as human dignity, privacy, justice, autonomy, responsibility in the context of the use of technology, and artificial intelligence.
In the case of artificial intelligence, practice has strongly overtaken theory. People have come up with algorithms that can find solutions to learn and improve based on their functioning and provided data. Many times, people cannot understand why the results are as they are. Applications are currently outstripping theory. It means that people have devised procedures that work, but there is no theory yet to deduce their attributes. At the same time, machines have surpassed man in many ways. They not only know faster design solutions, but many times are also more accurate. It can be whatever, detecting non-standard behaviour or phenomenon, recognising exciting information, textual or even visual.
I don’t think we have to be afraid of artificial intelligence. We should be frightened of it only when we know nothing about it. Therefore, I encourage everyone to learn about AI in the same way they learned about trees, flowers, people and society. To devote at least a few hours to gaining knowledge of artificial intelligence’s basic principles.
How has the current pandemic situation affected your research?
There is probably no area or person who has not been affected by the current pandemic. Certainly, the pandemic has affected us as well. We miss having personal meetings and discussions. Also, the pandemic makes it very complicated for us to obtain funding for the Institute. We need to establish new relationships in the new institute, which is not easy. But I must say that this time has broken down some of the barriers, and we often get into new situations. There are more and more positive impulses for me than others.
However, the pandemic opened several new possibilities for us. At the time of the institute’s establishment, we planned to combine working from home with being in a coworking environment. Connecting with foreign countries is now easier. In the first year of operation, we have a team of six top researchers from abroad, which would not usually be possible.
Because the Kempelen Institute was born through a global pandemic, we set up efficient processes and open operation from the beginning. I believe that this will be a massive advantage in the long run.
Interestingly, the research institute is in a coworking space. How does this new HubHub environment and community benefit you?
We were thinking about connecting with an innovative space such as HubHub when we were still at the university. It has always attracted me because I am convinced that space also shapes and educates us. It’s not so much about how exclusive the equipment is, but what happens here, who is here and what interactions it has the opportunity to provide to those who are here. When you add the technologies that help this interaction, something emerges that can significantly stimulate interesting and new ideas that can make people happy.
It is necessary to say that researchers usually do not work in coworking spaces. You may also need many hours of peace to carry out research. On the other hand, the possibilities of coworking spaces wonderfully stimulate new ideas. This is not only true within the Institute itself, but also in the context of other companies located in the area. That is why I see the combination of a coworking environment and working from home as an excellent opportunity for research activities and innovations.