Holiday Greetings from NORA's CEO Klas Pettersen
2020 has been a special year for all of us. It's been a year like no other, a year for the history books. We are proud of our achievements in the past year, much thanks to great teamwork and contributions from you all.
NORA was established to strengthen Norwegian research, education and innovation activities within artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotics, as well as other relevant research that supports the development of artificial intelligence applications. From April 2019 the secretariat has been operational.
To be given the opportunity to work full time to strengthen the most exciting research field in our times was a task I approached with great excitement and awe. I had spent my last twenty years mostly working as a researcher within computational neuroscience, and although computational neuroscience and AI is overlapping, it is quite a leap from being a researcher to coordinating nine partners’ research efforts within a broad research field. I had some experience as a leader, but being the manager and leader of the board of a wrestling club (yes, this is true, I still am 😊) is not exactly the same as administrating and building a national team within an academic discipline. It has been a steep learning curve, and I am quite proud of what we have accomplished since April 2019.
The NORA secretariat has connected researchers both nationally and internationally; we have coordinated and supported research proposals, many of them successful. AI and robotics are highly specialized research fields, but it is also interesting to see the ubiquitous nature of AI, exemplified by many of the newly awarded SFIs. In this fourth generation of SFIs two centers are pure AI centers: SFI Visual Intelligence (UiT, UiO and Norwegian Computing Center) and NorwAI (NTNU, UiO, UiS, SINTEF Digital, Norwegian Computing Center). They are both collaborating with a broad specter of industry partners. In many of the other new SFIs AI will also have a central role, such as in SFI MediaFutures (UiB, UiO, UiS, NORCE and international university partners).
In many areas of AI research the tendency is bigger data and bigger models, and a research e-infrastructure tailored to meet the AI needs is essential for excellence within these fields. NORA has actively been supporting applications for national e-infrastructure, including educational programmes, user support and training. A national infrastructure with support and training will not only stimulate Norwegian AI research in a broader sense, it will also be an important step for research groups with ambitions of operating on the LUMI supercomputer.
In 2020 the NORA secretariat started the work of building up NORA’s research school in AI, machine learning and robotics. We were able to organize the first NORA ph.d. symposium just before the corona virus changed our daily lives. Together with NORA’s education committee, NORA’s secretariat will continue building the research school in 2021, and we will apply NFR for funding in September to become a national research school in artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotics. We have already received funding for organizing a Nordic AI young researcher symposium annually for a five years period. This event will create stronger Nordic relationships in the years to come, and it will position Norwegian research and education on a Nordic arena. I am really looking forward to the first Nordic symposium October 13-14, 2021.
In the spring of 2020 NORA’s innovation network for research-based innovation, NORA.startup, was established. Christian Bjerke and Gründergarasjen had approached NORA with the idea of creating a national innovation network within artificial intelligence, and together with Freyja Jørgensen and NORA.startup’s steering group the NORA secretariat established this cooperation between academia, incubators and start-up companies. It has been great to see researchers from the universities and start-up companies sharing experiences and connecting on research proposals through NORA.startup. Judging from the enthusiasm and rapid growth of NORA.startup I think we are witnessing the birth of an innovation ecosystem which will play an important national role in the years to come.
The fields of AI, machine learning and robotics are now very well organized in Norway. There are several networks operating within these areas; Norwegian Open AI Lab (NAIL), Digital Norway, Cluster for applied AI and Norwegian Cognitive Center. NORA has great relationship with all these networks, and together we will organize a webinar on 14th of January with focus on policy and advices for Norway to become an AI nation. The date is not a coincidence, January 14th 2020 was the release date for the National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence. Researchers and professionals within AI, machine learning and robotics know that this field will have a huge impact on society, and the NORA secretariat is working hard to disseminate this understanding at the level of the authorities and the Norwegian policy implementation systems.
Events and dissemination
Luckily, we were able to organize our PhD symposium in 2020, but unfortunately we were forced to cancel our planned Annual conference in April due to the Corona situation. After April our events have been digital. We started up Friday afternoon webinars, where many exciting research projects have been presented. All webinars are available on our webpage, five of them were hosted by Morten Goodwin and NORA.startup. NORA.startup also had an inspiring digital kick-off.
NORA’s communication advisor writes news for our webpages on a regular basis, we distribute news from our partners and we also publish monthly newsletters. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have published exciting papers, received grants or have some exciting news to share!
Although our physical events have been canceled in 2020, we hope to be able to organize physical events in 2021. Already now you should save the date for NORA’s annual conference in Bergen June 3rd-4th, 2021.
All the accomplishments mentioned above, and much, much more, have only been possible through great teamwork and contributions from you all. NORA’s education committee, NORA.startup’s steering group, NORA’s research support network, NORA’s communication network, NORA’s board members - thank you so much for great spirits and work in 2020! Many of you deserve special thanks, but particularly I want to mention Freyja Jørgensen and Morten Goodwin for their extraordinary efforts in NORA.startup. Not to mention the rest of the NORA secretariat; Anam Javaid, Ivan Dragicevic and Alex Moltzau. Thank you so much, you have been exceptional!
Thanks to all of you NORA has become a prominent player and an important tool for our partner institutions, but we have just started the journey. I really look forward to see the collaboration grow and prosper. Together we are stronger!
I wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy new year!
Klas H. Pettersen