Motive (formerly KeepTruckin), a well-funded US-based startup with a sizable team based out of Pakistan, is organising a two-day artificial intelligence (AI) conference titled “AI Connect” in Lahore from Wednesday aimed at “showcasing Pakistan’s talent” in the artificial intelligence.

Ali Hasan, the startup’s engineering manager, said the event will be “replete with keynotes, fireside chats, panel discussions, and networking sessions with the world’s top AI researchers, engineers, and entrepreneurs.”

The event, he continued, was designed to “motivate, train, and connect” the next generation of prospective AI engineers and researchers who were going to contribute significantly to the global AI economy.

Hasan said many countries had developed dedicated AI frameworks and policies to facilitate education programs and research and development centres to forward technological advancements and economic growth.

“Examples include China’s Next Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Plan, the US executive order on AI leadership, and AI Made in Germany — to name only a few.”

He emphasised that Pakistan must follow suit and invest in programmes to promote youths’ enthusiasm about AI and modern technologies. This means investing in education programmes, research centers, and industry readiness training programs, the engineer added.

Hasan said it had been an exception because “it established its primary AI team in Lahore. This team consists of multiple PhDs, postdocs in computer vision and machine learning, and engineers with a solid academic research background.”

The team builds AI technologies to help prevent road accidents, keep our roads safer, and save lives. They have already shipped industry-leading AI products, published their work at top AI conferences, and filed multiple patents thanks to R&D done primarily in Pakistan, he highlighted.

According to Hasan, the engineers are deploying their solutions to hundreds of thousands of IoT devices in the field to perform various automation tasks, such as identifying who is driving the vehicle, detecting unsafe driving behaviors, and automated driver coaching, to name a few.

“AI — and innovation in general — is not something new to Pakistan. We have a strong talent pool and a growing population of educated youth. We are also an incredible engineering hub with a growing Information Technology (IT) industry. We have over 600,000 IT professionals, with over 25,000 fresh graduates added to the workforce annually,” the manager pointed out.

He said Pakistan had around 17,000 software companies providing services to over 120 countries across the globe, bringing in $3 billion in IT export revenue last year.

It is encouraging to look at the tech companies, startups, and research labs working in both applied and scientific research in artificial intelligence, but the number of companies and startups providing services and building products in the AI space is relatively small, Hasan added.

He insisted on investing in programmes that help bridge the industry-academia gap and motivate the youth to pursue research and education in AI. “We must train some of our existing 600k IT professionals in AI, and we must create more centers like National Center of Artificial Intelligence.”

The firm NCAI, he went on, was a technological initiative established by the Government of Pakistan in 2018. “It aims to become a leading hub of innovation, scientific research, knowledge transfer to the local economy, and training in the area of AI and its closely affiliated fields. It consists of nine research labs from six universities in Pakistan.”

In addition, Hasan said, a few more labs at the institutes including the National University of Sciences and Technology, and the Lahore University of Management Sciences were solving fundamental AI problems. “They publish their work at top-tier international venues and collaborate with companies like Google and Facebook.”

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