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Microsoft: Helping Unis Harness the Cloud and AI for Hungary

Ecosystem

Artificial intelligence could be a great (business) opportunity for Hungary, but it needs to be part of the general education for the country to really benefit from it. Microsoft, a member of the the Hungarian AI Coalition, has teamed up five Hungarian universities to improve access to this technology and move professional work to next level.

Christopher Mattheisen, head of Microsoft Hungary (left) and  Vice President of Education at Microsoft, Anthony Salcito (second from left).

“Supporting education and artificial intelligence is an issue of strategic importance at Microsoft,” says Ádám Merényi, educational business unit leader at Microsoft Hungary.  

“In Hungary, we have seen some good examples for companies improving their competitiveness after starting to apply AI. So we thought, ‘Why not take it to the next level and start working with universities as well?’,” he adds.  

Microsoft has teamed up with five universities (Budapest Business School, Budapest University of Technology and Economics, the University of Debrecen, Óbuda University, and the University of Pécs) to create AI Knowledge Centers concentrating data and knowledge on AI.  

The aim of the initiative is to improve students’ access to new technologies, and help universities already working on AI-projects create projects of great social value.  

“Today, artificial Intelligence works as an equalizer,” says Christopher Mattheisen, head of Microsoft Hungary, citing Estonia as a good example. “If you understand technology, you don’t need to be big to achieve great progress; any country can do it.”  

Accelerating the Process

Hungary’s aim is to gain this knowledge as fast as possible, and Microsoft together with the AI Knowledge Centers wants to accelerate this process, Mattheisen adds.

AI Knowledge Centers concentrate knowledge on the latest technologies. They also have the necessary software background that enables students and their professors to succeed in AI-related research. Universities have been doing AI-related research for decades. By now they have collected enough data and calculating capacities to make it accessible for everyone.  

“We tend to say that Microsoft has democratized AI, which no longer is the privilege of a small circle within a faculty but any faculty of any university can access AI capacities and services through the cloud,” Merényi says.   

Microsoft supports universities on two fronts. First, it provides them with knowledge: It has prepared an AI-curriculum in Hungary with Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE) and the John von Neumann Computer Society, but materials from the wider world are also available.  

Secondly, the company also provides universities with USD 300 worth of calculating capacities per student, which, calculating with 7,700 IT students, equals HUF 700 million a year. This helps students to learn and get an understanding of AI. Universities also have an option to buy further capacities from the company to conduct research.  

One major benefit of cloud-services is that is makes all the globally accumulated know-how accessible to everyone. Tapping into this resource saves universities and researchers time, money and energy as they may not need to go through a process step by step if someone else has already done that. This alone improves efficiency.  

Piggy Back Research

Researchers will not only be able to access raw data, but also the technology that is out that. For instance, if the researchers of the University of Debrecen want to map wolf populations in Hungarian forests, they don’t want to first spend time developing a method for AI to spot wolves.

And now they don’t need to, as they can access image recognition systems from the cloud, Merényi says. They also become more knowledgeable of the potential/possibilities available. All this boost efficiency

Microsoft also helps with the training of professors and curriculum development. When it enters into a partnership with a university, it first trains the professors the institution says will be involved in the program. With the knowledge gained, those professors test it themselves, then pass it on to their students.  

The last “step” is when they work on real projects. Among such research programs are monitoring wild horses with drones at the Hortobágy National Park in eastern Hungary, or looking at what data can be gained from consumers’ reviews of medicines.  

“AI-related theoretical knowledge has always been here,” Merényi says. There has also been centrally procured calculating capacity that helps turn this knowledge to practical ends. What the cloud does is that it provide universities with almost unlimited cutting-edge knowledge and state-of-the-art hardware, which is crucial to move to the next level, he adds.

“I can’t stress enough the importance of AI,” says Mattheisen. Companies are on the constant lookout for workforce able to apply new technologies: three-quarters of those asked by Microsoft say they need a digitally-savvy workforce, he adds.  

Universities may be the key in teaching AI, but Microsoft says it doesn’t want to stop there; it wants to provide access to AI right across a much wider spectrum, from elementary schools to adult training.  

Chancellor of Budapest Economic University (BGE), Dr. Ferenc Dietz.

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