The additional $70M annual engagement over the next 5 years will break Armenia into the top 20 AI nations

October 3, 2022  13:21

On October 5-6, Yerevan will host one of this year's important technological events, the 4th Global Innovation Forum (GIF22), held by the Foundation for Armenian Science and Technology (FAST). It will bring to Armenia scientists, entrepreneurs, representatives of leading technology companies, financial institutions, and research centers from more than twenty countries. GIF 22 entitled "Life-Altering Technologies," will explore applications of Artificial Intelligence and its further advancements.

We talked to Armen Orujyan, the founding CEO of FAST, about the future uses of AI, the dangers expected from it, the main formats of GIF22, and the mission adopted by the Foundation.

Why do we need artificial intelligence? 

The human species has a great deal of limitations. We tire, we get sick, and ultimately we expire. Not until we overcome these limitations we are going to continue looking for ways to improve ourselves and improve the way we do things. Artificial intelligence undeniably plays a role of a quasi-human and in some instances, when we look at some of the verticals where it has been applied, it is superhuman. AI will be growing and perfecting its craft with us, and together we will likely reach completely new heights.  

How will we benefit from its development in the near future?

Artificial Intelligence is a booming technological domain capable of altering every aspect of our social and professional interactions. AI as a technology has been very rapidly developing during the past two decades and continues to evolve, playing an increasingly important role in science, industry, and in general, the global marketplace. Let’s see where we spend most of our time and explore the types of changes we should anticipate in those areas.

Home, for instance, think of smart kitchens with refrigerators that know what the family requires for the week based on previous data as well as weekly calendar access. The refrigerator can automatically measure the grocery needs and through home smart WiFi connect to a connected supermarket, for instance, Amazon’s Whole Foods and have it delivered at a specific time.

In regard to workspace, where much of your work requires precision, such as accounting which for instance is done by a digital aid that takes no breaks, makes nearly no mistakes, and is never late for work or in providing reports. And finally, school, where your curriculum updates automatically as new knowledge becomes available anywhere on the Internet and a digital faculty guides the students through the best possible process of learning. And this is in the near future.

What is needed for the faster development of AI in Armenia?

We have done a study on how to help Armenia excel in AI and found that with an additional $350M over the next 5 years, we can break into the top 20 nations. We currently sit in the 57th place. $350M is both a lot of money and peanuts. It depends on the perspective. We think it is peanuts if we as a nation finally come to terms that in order for us to build a competitive nation, a nation that thrives, we must invest in this space. In this case, an additional $70M annual engagement to build talent, research and development, and commercialization of science is no big deal. We spend more than that annually on many less critical elements.

We have begun a number of initiatives in this space already. FAST together with the Ministry of ESCS of RA is implementing an initiative in high schools called Generation AI. The pilot will nurture and put in action a vision of seeing our high school students excel at mathematics and AI, by implementing a multi-level and multi-directional approach to upgrading the education system. We will be offering Advanced Placement programs similar to those available in US high schools. Besides this, our ADVANCE STEM Grant program provides significant grants to our local PhD students and PostDocs in this space as well. Overall, we see some vital interest from the government to support AI. According to the recent WB report of 2019, AI is considered to be a pivotal sector in Armenia to be developed and prioritized.

How will the development of AI affect geopolitical power and warfare? 

If one to ask where should we anticipate the next breakthrough technology to come in the Military, I would argue, that it is the integration of AI in all aspects of the military from the ground sensor and application of weaponry that will push the border troops away from the harms way to aerial vision, evasion, and attack as both deterrence against conventional ground movement to attacking the powerless. But also major applications exist in cybersecurity, surveillance, intelligence, and interoperability of the various units and the full capabilities of the armed forces. 

Can artificial intelligence be dangerous? Is there a chance that one day a program will be able to rewrite its own code and diverge from the intentions of its creator?

There is an important factor about AI to take into consideration: while it is a big locomotive of human development, it does have some potential dangers to undermining the same humans in certain ways. We need to address all the risk possibilities one by one and make sure we don’t move forward with a blue-sky perspective but exercise pragmatism while tasking the machines and giving AI its next level of involvement in our social life. There are risks in anything that humans do.

AI and its use will be one of the main topics at GIF 2022. Will any interesting guests or scientists join this event? 

Global Innovation Forum (GIF) is FAST’s flagship event which is back after two years. The 4th GIF on “Life-Altering Technologies” is set to explore the impact of novel technologies on human life and put Armenia firmly on the global innovation map. GIF builds bridges with visionary thinkers with entrepreneurial doers, ambitious investors with bold innovators, and policymakers with industry shakers. GIF is where relationships are formed, partnerships are established, and the sparks of collaboration are born. The seeds of this international format were sown back in the 2017 workshop in cooperation with the US National Science Foundation, attracting some of the sphere’s top minds. The event initially aimed at connecting the scientific communities in Armenia and abroad, and it still facilitates this bridge while bringing the latest innovation trends to Armenia. In years past, GIF brought to Armenia over 3500 participants and 200+ exceptional scientists, innovators, and executives from 26 countries representing tech giants like Google DeepMind, Google Brain, Facebook AI, Microsoft, and Flagship Pioneering, and leading academic institutions like Harvard, MIT, and Stanford. 

And the 4th Global Innovation Forum will see world-renowned leaders from Moderna, McKinsey & Company, ABBYY, Huawei, Flagship Pioneering, IBM, Whatsapp, Amazon, Cognaize, AI Fund, Analog Devices, Synopsis, the World Bank, CNN, and many more. 

The visionary speaker of GIF22 is Dr. Noubar Afeyan, Co-Founder and Chairman of the Board of Moderna, Inc - maker of COVID-19 mRNA vaccines. We will have Mr. Andre Andonian in the role of keynote presenter, who supports McKinsey & Company as Chairman Emeritus North Asia/Special Advisor after completing his 34-year tenure. Dr. David Yang, principal at Visier, founder of ABBYY, co-founder of, and member of Band of Angels, a Silicon Valley-based serial entrepreneur specializing in AI, will also deliver a keynote presentation on Thinking Machines. We will have in attendance Dr. Chuck Mattera, the Chair and CEO of II-VI Incorporated, Dr. Avak Kahvejian from Flagship Pioneering, Ms. Carolin Geginat, Country Manager of the World Bank (WB) for Armenia, Ms. Kim Dressendoerfer, AI and Data Expert and Cognitive Solution Architect for IBM, Ms. Lara Farrar, CNN International Foreign Correspondent, Mr. Ahmed Riad, Senior Director, Strategy and Industry Development at Huawei, prominent scientist Dr. Mary A. Papazian, Executive in residence and former president, San José State University (SJSU),  Dr. Nikolay Dokholyan, Associate director, G. Thomas Passananti Professor and Vice Chair for Research, Penn State Department of Pharmacology, Penn State Clinical and Translational Science Institute.

What important topics will be discussed and how can GIF 2022 affect the development of the AI sphere and IT in general in Armenia? 

In addition to the above-mentioned I would emphasize that the center of the discussions will be AI and its impact on human life. From the cutting edge of FinTech and EdTech to the life-saving edge of precision medicine, all the innovations that are transforming our industries and our world will be explored at GIF22. 

Can artificial intelligence help us be more sustainable, and what intelligent solutions is it offering our overpopulated cities and urban centers? How are countries like Armenia using AI strategies in data protection and digital infrastructure? And how does all this research and innovation get funded, anyway? All these questions and more will be tackled at the Global Innovation Forum.

The main aim of this annual event is to position Armenia as a global innovation hub, thus reinforcing relations between Armenian and world professionals to establish mutually beneficial cooperation. In this regard, we think networking and connections gained throughout the event will pave the path for new scientific discoveries in the AI industry. This will undoubtedly have a significant impact on the advancement of AI in Armenia.  

What unique formats will GIF introduce this year? 

GIF will offer two days of insightful presentations and thought-provoking discussions on AI. Through energizing keynote presentations, Fireside chats, distinguished scientists, entrepreneurs, and experts will provide their insights on future developments in life-altering technologies. For participants who want a more engaging experience, GIF will also feature fishbowl sessions, panel discussions, and Q&As with our speakers. Whether you’re looking to inspire or be inspired, there is something for everyone.

The mission of FAST is to transform Armenia's future through science and technology development. What steps are you planning to take to achieve this? 

FAST was founded five years ago with the belief that Armenia’s prosperity and sustainable future lie in its scientific and technological advancement. Throughout this period, FAST has piloted, tested, and explored Armenia's science and technology landscape. 

We strive to support Armenia’s transformation into a top 10 global innovator nation and top 5 Data Science and Artificial Intelligence innovator country by 2041. 

Even though our vision of transforming the future of Armenia through science and technology is complex and challenging, we firmly believe that it is certainly achievable.  FAST took a system approach to its strategy and programming. We aim to create disruptive change in three main pillars of the landscape – education, research, and commercialization of science as staples of the Armenian Science, Technology, and Innovation ecosystem. 

During 5 years of operations, FAST has launched more than 30 programs engaging 6,000 beneficiaries. The organization is now moving toward scaling its core programs and launching new initiatives.

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