Serbia prepares for the AI revolution

April 28, 2023
UNDP Serbia

The ever greater use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in everything from helping companies with coding, hiring and sales, to the wider public’s use of it to create quirky images and videos, is not only a social and political hot topic but also a major development challenge. Introduction of AI tools seems set to transform the way we work, learn, communicate with each other and go about our daily lives and requires multi-disciplinary and innovative responses from all stakeholders.

In 2019, the Serbian government adopted a Strategy for the Development of Artificial Intelligence (AI) for the period 2020-2025. Through a dedicated project, UNDP has been actively supporting the government's ambitious AI agenda, which has included things like establishing the Artificial Intelligence Institute and adopting an Ethical framework for Responsible AI Development. Despite substantial progress, there is still a need for ongoing dialogue regarding the possible benefits and risks associated with rapidly advancing technology.

Thus UNDP Serbia teamed up with Mašinerija, a new organisation of industry professionals who deal with Data Science, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, to hold a small conference, titled “AI and Serbia – Disruption, Readiness, Opportunities”. For UNDP in Serbia, this was an opportunity to launch its series of #UNDPDigitalTalks, a new initiative to gather various partners and stakeholders who may contribute to the national discussion on the digital transformation, adoption of new technologies, and the way they are changing the country and society.

The conference, which was held in the premises of Digital Serbia Initiative on 19 April 2023, gathered a select but diverse crowd of local and expat tech professionals, artists, researchers, policy makers and CSO representatives who considered all the varied effects AI might have on Serbia’s economic and social development.

Envisioned as only the beginning of the conversation about the impact of AI in Serbia, the conference consisted of four sessions which were structured around the fields in which the AI will probably have the greatest impact: labour and the economy, skills and education, cyber security and privacy, as well as the arts and creative industries.

UNDP Serbia

Following the welcome remarks from UNDP’s Resident representative, Yakup Beris,  Mašinerija’s Goran S. Milovanović and UNDP Accelerator Lab’s Slobodan Marković, with their introductory presentation about Generative AI, set the tone for the topic-focused discussions hosted by field experts.

All four segments inspired heated discussions between session leaders and the audience about the key questions surrounding the popularisation of AI: its potentials and limitations, the impact it can have on development and equity, as well as what we should do today to better prepare for what’s coming.

The first session, focused on how AI will transform the workplace and the economy, brought together Igor Bogićević, a veteran tech entrepreneur, Maja Kulić, an engagement manager at a global leadership consultancy, and Jelisaveta Lazarević, a researcher and teaching assistant at FEFA. With the help of the audience they tried to flesh out how AI will change the workplace: from the hope that AI will empower those who do mundane tasks, to the concerns that it will create redundancies in white collar fields. One of the assessments was that the upcoming AI revolution is comparable to the introduction of computers and the internet in the economy during the 1990s, which transformed the labour market, by creating new fields and opportunities, while deepening some inequalities. Furthermore the questions around the availability of AI technology were discussed, given the high deployment costs and potential global divergence.

UNDP Serbia

The topic of AI in education was tackled by the former Minister of Education, Srđan Verbić and Katarina Aleksić, who leads the Education Technology Center at the Serbian Institute for Education Quality and Evaluation. They focused on the ability of the Serbian education system to adapt and use the new technology, especially given its rigidity. Another topic discussed was related to the student testing methods that will be relevant in the age of AI. Participants in this segment also explored how to educate new generations so they are able to harness the power of the new technology – not only to help students in mundane tasks, but also to teach them to ask better questions, improve their knowledge of foreign languages and be more creative, in general.

UNDP Serbia

The session about cyber security, privacy and defence aspects of AI included Vladimir Radunović from the Diplo foundation, and Dragan Pleskonjić a world-renowned cyber security expert and developer of Glog.AI software which assesses vulnerabilities in code. The main topic was the “cat and mouse” game between various nefarious actors using AI capabilities, such as deep fakes, and those trying to protect their institutions and countries from them. Another major concern was privacy and the ability to protect one's own digital footprint. Finally the discussion turned to the risks of using AI as a cyber weapon and part of autonomous weapons such as drones. Discussion participants talked about the possibility of global coordination, such as establishment of international treaties, to prevent catastrophic outcomes which may occur with extensive and unregulated AI use.

UNDP Serbia

The last segment revolved around the use of AI in art and creative fields. Vladan Joler, the professor of New Media at the University of Novi Sad and founder of SHARE foundation, considered whether generative AI can really displace artists. Drawing on his projects Anatomy of AI and New Extractivism, he pointed out how the mass culture produced by AI can entrench the existing cultural biases and crowd out marginal voices, due to the reproductive nature of the technology and lack of scrutiny of the sources of data. Ironically, due to these features of technology, Joler did not see AI posing a threat for artists who seek to do what art does the best: challenge the status quo and provide novel insights.

The event encouraged its diverse audience to consider a plethora of issues raised by the surge of AI. The varied backgrounds of session leaders and participants contributed to many complex, nuanced arguments around the latest technological developments.

UNDP Serbia and Mašinerija plan to create more opportunities for discussion on various aspects of this important topic, particularly having in mind that a drive towards a knowledge economy will stay on the political agenda and be a major part of Serbia’s development strategy.