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International Research Centre on Artificial Intelligence in Ljubljana

Slovenia seems to be globally known only thanks to its extraordinary athletes and magnificent nature. Are we really simply the country of sport heroes, the Planica giants ski jumping hill, Bled Island and wonderful Piran? Certainly not. Slovenia is a country of many talents. Whatever we undertake, we make a difference. We triumph, we are the first to ascend peaks, we make scientific breakthroughs.

Human and artificial hands touch with their fingers.

Slovenians are more and more present on the global map of science. | Author Colin Anderson Productions pty Itd-GettyImages/GulliverFilm&Foto

Thanks to our top scientists, both women and men, that push the boundaries both at home and abroad, Slovenians are more and more present on the global map of science.

And increasingly recognisable. Paris has recently announced the good news that the first International Research Centre on AI under the Auspices of UNESCO will be set up in Ljubljana.

A valuable addition to Slovenia

The centre will be, in many ways, a valuable asset for Slovenia. It will provide the opportunity to firmly put Slovenia on the international science market, and will be for many a stepping stone to the global world. It will certainly enhance the reputation and the role of Slovenia's scientists who, together with the Ministry of Education, Science and Sport, embraced UNESCO’s idea to set up this centre in Slovenia.

In a moment of intensive competition to gain primacy in the area of artificial intelligence, Slovenia is setting up a unique institution that will address the people-friendly side of artificial intelligence and technology in general. 

A long tradition of research and dedication to the field of AI

The selection of Slovenia to house the new centre is not a coincidence. "Slovenia has a long tradition of research in the field of AI that goes back to the early 1970s. There are currently about 200 researchers and 10 companies that develop AI technology. 

The reason for this centre to be set up in Slovenia is also a long partnership and cooperation with UNESCO that recognised us as a possible credible partner for the setting up of such a centre.

We have been cooperating with UNESCO in particular in the field of open education; this eventually led to talks about the setting up of an International Research Centre for Artificial Intelligence (IRCAI)," added Gašper Hrastelj from the UNESCO Office of the Ministry of Education, Science and Sport, and founder of the centre.

Illustrative image.

AI is becoming our fellow traveller. | Author Piranka-GettyImages/GulliverFilm&Foto

The centre, opened in 2020, is hosted at the Jožef Stefan Institute, one of Slovenia's leading research institutions which operates with almost one thousand researchers.

The aim of the centre is to reach beyond the borders of Slovenia and Europe, both in terms of content and of participants creating this content.

The centre will address global issues, support UNESCO in their studies and participate in major international projects in the field of artificial intelligence. It will provide counsel to governments, international organisations and the general public on systemic and strategic solutions concerning the introduction of artificial intelligence in different areas.

Jožef Stefan Institute building.

The International Research Centre on Artificial Intelligence (IRCAI) is is hosted at the Jožef Stefan Institute, one of Slovenia's leading research institutions. | Author Arhiv Institut Jožef Stefan

Mr Mitja Jermol, head of the Centre for Knowledge Transfer in Information Technologies at the JSI, who was one of the key players in the process of development and the setting up of the centre, sees the centre as a hub of cooperation and integration. Within Slovenia and with the rest of the world.

"The idea of such an international space where researchers, instead of leaving, would come to Slovenia, was born already in 2000. First, we were four enthusiasts who believed in this idea, as this is a field that is well rooted in Slovenia and has good potential. In Slovenia in the past 20 years, this field has successfully evolved, and researchers from our institutes, universities and companies have become increasingly recognised as excellent researchers with first-class results.  Due to the successful cooperation with UNESCO on open educational resources, as well as other achievements in 2016, UNESCO proposed the establishment of the centre in Slovenia. The centre is, if I may use this metaphor, a highway to the global world. It is a huge achievement for Slovenia. It will first operate at JSI, but will include players from all Slovenia and, more important still, from all over the world. This is our wish and this how we imagined the centre to be. As a conglomerate of knowledge from Slovenia that will be complemented with foreign knowledge with the aim of solving global issues and challenges linked to AI. Slovenia as a whole is finally getting a different image, our science and research in the field of AI are entering new dimensions.The centre will expand its reach beyond the limits of technology to, in particular, social sciences. I firmly believe that Slovenia will be able to do a lot with this opportunity. On many occasions we have shown that we have been able get together and move mountains, and I look forward to tackling new challenges," said Mr Jermol.

With this centre, Slovenia is gaining a new ambassador of science in a field that is destined to leave its mark on the future of our society. Many are still uncomfortable at the thought of artificial intelligence, but we must accept the fact that it is increasingly becoming our fellow traveller. And this not only in movies with characters such as Lara Croft and the Terminator.