• Mislav Malenica

A CERN for AI in Croatia focused on healthy ageing of Europeans

After WWII it became clear that European science was no longer world-class and that was resulting in significant brain drain to America. As a response we created the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN). Even today, more than 60 years after its founding, CERN is still a magnet for researchers from all over the world by consistently providing conditions for high energy physics unparalleled anywhere in the world.

Similar examples, where setting up the right conditions for innovation creates competitive advantage, we see all around the world. In Israel, the Government turned the entire country into a cybersecurity research and innovation lab with a task of continuously developing solutions that can keep their country safe, but also have excellent export potential. The rise of Silicon Valley was enabled by bringing together a skilled science research base, plentiful venture capital and steady U.S. Department of Defense spending. Today in the autonomous vehicle (AV) realm, China is taking R&D to the next level by investing in new infrastructure, AV-ready cities, roads and 5G. They want to become market leaders by accelerating the adoption of AV in real world environments which will enable them to gather relevant data faster and improve their algorithms at a pace not available to other countries.

Looking at Europe, the scene is differently set. In the past several decades, while the U.S. and China consistently produced new digital giants, European entrepreneurship has steadily lagged (apart from a few exceptions), with our main challenge being our own mindset. Our focus on European strategic autonomy means that we are choosing to live in the past. Instead of focusing on how to create new value and lead, we keep on replicating what already exists. Seeking autonomy can be part of our hygiene, but it must not be our focus. We need more CERNs.

For us in Croatia, for a long time it was hard to think that our entrepreneurship could be world-class. But a new wave of Croatian entrepreneurs and innovators is coming, led by Mate Rimac from Rimac Automobili, Silvio Kutic from Infobip and Photomath’s Damir Sabol, who showed us that it is possible to touch the world from here. Now that this path has been paved, it is time to think how to move from anomalies to a systematic production of globally recognised entrepreneurship in Croatia.

As Europe braces for an uncertain Autumn, Croatia, the same way as other Member States, is figuring out how to best allocate funds from Next Generation EU. Personally, I would rather see targeted investments in emerging technologies that can put Croatia on the global map rather than a blanket approach through major stimulus spending, despite the latter being much easier to execute.

One such investment idea that is gaining momentum in Croatia is “CERN for healthy ageing” - an environment, from a policy, legal and infrastructure standpoint, where we would apply artificial intelligence for better understanding and dealing with chronic illnesses. The end goal would be creating new insights, products and services that can help people all over the world.

Why chronic illnesses? Because for 27 EU Member States that are trying to make high quality healthcare available to all their citizens, no matter what their socioeconomic status may be, chronic illnesses are putting a massive strain on public financing. Right now they account for around 80% of healthcare spending and with Europe’s population ageing and being more and more exposed to multiple chronic conditions, the pressure will just continue to grow. No country in the world will be able to provide that kind of level of care without applying new technologies like artificial intelligence.

Why Croatia? Although our universal healthcare is overburdening the national budget it is deeply rooted in our national identity to not leave people behind. So we need to make it work. On the one hand we are small enough to turn the whole country into an innovation lab, and on the other we are big enough to make results relevant. Probably the most important factor is that we are still in the process of discovering who we are. Applying AI to help the world deal with chronic illnesses sounds like an inspiring challenge for Croatia.

CERN is proof that Europe can be inspiring. Let’s stop catching-up.