Vyacheslav Fedulov: ‘We want to get AI solutions for businesses, not a pile of papers’

Over 30 billion rubles will be spent to support AI development projects in Russia during three years

More than 50 countries have developed an AI development strategy, and Russia also actively works in this area. Artificial Intelligence federal project whose goal is to create conditions to use products based on primarily Russian AI technologies has been launched this year. The Russian Ministry of Economic Development intends to spend 31,5 billion rubles to finance AI developments. Several thousands of experts will select solutions for businesses and science for their further launch. At a briefing, representatives of the Ministry of Economic Development, Skolkovo Foundation and the Fund for Innovations explained how entrepreneurs can get the money to have AI developments approved.

Winners will get grants from 4 to 100 million rubles

Russian AI developers successfully introduce their innovations in different spheres of the economy: medicine, industry, agriculture. Now the state will pay quite a lot of money for real projects that will improve, for instance, the production of certain commodities or help health workers to faster and more effectively diagnose complex diseases.

Depending on the ready-to-use AI solution and in case of victory in special competitions of the federal project, start-ups, individuals or small enterprises can get grants from 4 to 100 million rubles. The competitions will be held by different agencies for three years — each of them have their own role in the federal project. So the Fund for Innovations will pick 140 teams to give them grants in AI start-ups and Open Source, the teams can receive a total of 1,2 billion rubles. Each of them can hope for a sum from 4 million to 20 million rubles. The financing will be 7 billion rubles until late 2024, while the number of recipients is 1,200 (teams and individuals).

Skolkovo Foundation is the second operator of the project, the size of grant support is bigger. The foundation holds a competition for AI pilot solutions in different sectors of the economy. Seven winners can get a grant from 20 to 100 million rubles. During three years, Skolkovo experts plan to choose the 50 most workable projects with proven efficiency. The project envisages more than 10 billion rubles for them, half of the sum is given by the federal treasury, the other half is businesses’ investments where winners will introduce their projects or do a pilot test.

The Russian government’s Analytic Centre will host another competition designed to support AI research centres. A commission will select six winners, while 900 million rubles will be spent this year on their reward. The financing will amount to 7 billion rubles by the end of 2024. A third of the sum is extrabudgetary money. Also, within the federal project, a series of AI hackathons will be held in Russia, Russia — The Country of Opportunities project is their operator. Nearly a billion rubles is given to host them during three years, from 2021 to 2024: 116 hackathons will be organised in 85 regions and 24 districts, while 7 events will take place abroad. 10 hackathons and 10 educational lectures are scheduled to be offered by the end of the year.

As Vice Minister of Economic Development of Russia Vladislav Fedulov noted, the Ministry of Economic Development singled out a number of promising AI areas that are topical and popular among large businesses and will support them. Computer vision, natural language processing, speech recognition, intelligent decision-making support and promising artificial intelligence methods. The order of the Ministry of Economic Development spells out 88 tasks with a corresponding intelligent development. The vice minister stressed:

“Not only scientific research must be the result of this federal project. In the end we don’t want to get a pile of papers that will lie in cabinets and will serve for reports. We want to get solutions that will immediately be used by businesses.”

Sberbank, Mail.ru Group, Yandex will be involved in evaluating competitors’ projects

“There was designed a cardio flash card anybody can use to know their ECG with a smartphone and find out with the help of artificial intelligence if the person’s health status requires urgently calling a doctor,” Sergey Polyakov, head of the Fund for Innovations, put an example of the application of AI in medicine.

Though in Russia there have been created a lot of innovative developments of this kind and in different spheres, Polyakov noted, the start-ups that will compete in the federal project will allow creating a bigger base filled with not only research solutions but also true benefit. The Fund for Innovations has already finished the admission of projects, developers had submitted more than 170 applications for it. The fund calculated that this number isn’t enough, this is why additional admission was announced:

“Start-ups will receive from 4 to 8 million rubles. This year, we haven’t yet finished the competition, we are at a stage of inspection, further selection. And we think in the competition we will involve big companies in the alliance Artificial Intelligence Sberbank, Mail.ru Group, Yandex, Gazprom Neft, that’s to say, those key players who claimed their interest as companies that must become development drivers of this AI technology in the Russian economy,” Polyakov said.

The Fund for Innovations will implement AI projects through acceleration too. So the speaker says that it is planned to support around 100 projects — they can hone their case thanks to training and other additional gimmicks the project implies. Each competitor in case of being chosen by experts can receive 800,000 rubles for these purposes.

Candidate selection process is like circles of hell

Senior Vice President for Innovations at Skolkovo Foundation Kirill Kayem considers that the next decade will bring humanity a real breakthrough in AI development, the number of real introductions in this area will steadily grow. Deep learning tools that allow a machine to quite quickly and independently learn will facilitate this.

Skolkovo, in turn, will not only support AI developers with the Fund’s tools but also is also going to stimulate the industry to give specific applied task to these developers. The most important thing is their practical use. An enterprise will equally share the risk of the introduction of an AI system with the state. The Russian government’s decree No. 767 will be a guarantee here.

The fact that it will be a pilot launch is a must for AI developers. In case of success, the project must spread. At the same time, its developer remains the owner of intellectual property and will have the right to sell the technology to analogous consumers in a certain segment of the industry, the Skolkovo representative emphasised.

While not everybody can participate in the Artificial Intelligence federal programme and receive the long-awaited grant, and this won’t be so simple. As Kirill Kayem highlighted, according to the terms, developers with public partnership, foreign companies, those solutions that can be used only in one client and projects that are a replica of a serial Russian solution and, of course, those developments experts recognised impossible to introduce and ineffective cannot receive the support.

“To be honest, our selection procedure resembles the circles of hell because we carefully select quality projects. And we give the money to the organisation that is going to launch this solution, not the developer. Then, there is certain bureaucratic inspection where we do a formal inspection, see if the contractor and client aren’t affiliated entities, verify that clients are financially sound, there aren’t prosecutions. Then a commission evaluating the completion of the application considers the application, then it is handed over to experts outside Skolkovo. We have more than 800 scientists, subspecialists, they also conduct their assessment according to certain criteria, costs in the cost sheet are assessed, and only after answers to all these questions, the final external commission of experts confirms a project.”

Many projects fall out of the list of candidates after such a thorough inspection, Kayem admits. Also, this multi-step inspection cuts off inappropriate recipients from public support. According to him, there are “a lot of chancers, the so-called grant-eaters, whose main task is to receive public support from different institutions. At last, after overcoming all expert barriers, the developer who has a desire to introduce his or her technology in the real economy joins the federal project and receives multimillion financing, the Skolkovo vice president concluded.

Angelina Panchenko

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