Kazakhstan's Ai Aspirations
The Republic of Kazakhstan only has a population of 18 million people, but is the ninth largest country in the world with a land mass almost equivalent to that of Western Europe.
Kazakhstan’s economy has relied on the oil, gas and mineral sectors since its breakaway from the USSR in 1990.
Recently however, Kazakhstan has embraced technology and the government has actively worked to spark both domestic technological innovation as well as foreign investment in the country to diversify the economy and move its focus away from oil, gas and minerals.
This year Kazakhstan gained notoriety on the international stage by creating a StartUp Kazakhstan competition that looks to foster innovation by investing in and supporting startups that wish to do business in Kazakhstan.
However, the competition is not just limited to citizens of Kazakhstan, but also includes foreign startups that wish to do business in the country. The government along with state-run agencies will assist those selected for the competition. Those selected include a voice recognition firm, Speakus LTD and an online technical service platform ICAN.kz.
Kazakhstan's economy was devastated by the 2014-2016 crash in the Oil market.
Kazakhstan has also seen the emergence of a fund dedicated towards domestic innovation, Tech Garden Kazakh Autonomous Cluster Fund which is based in Almaty, the country’s largest city of almost 2 million residents.
This fund was created by the Kazakhstani government to directly invest in technology firms that can grow and be a part of the local economy. The fund has mostly invested in technology companies that can assist the oil, gas and mining sectors which still dominate the economy, approximately 13% of GDP.
Start Up Kazakhstan and the Tech Garden Kazakh Autonomous Cluster Fund partnered to invest in a robotic-cleaning startup from Russia. The firm has relocated to Kazakhstan while simultaneously signing a contract with the Airport authority to supply 100 cleaners. The robots use a simple Ai algorithm so that they may work together and not bump into each other and the walls. This is technology that Irobot has had for over a decade. Unfortunately, the proliferation throughout the world of robotics can’t be justly implemented.
Intellisense, a leading UK-based Ai firm partnered with the Tech Garden Fund to establish a development center for their Ai technology. Intellisense has a customer base heavy with mines and fossil-fuel extraction firms, making Kazakhstan a natural market and partner for the firm. Intellisense was able to develop technology in Kazakhstan while simultaneously benefiting from contracts with domestic firms that want to use the Intellisense software.
A number of major western firms have started doing business in Kazakhstan. IBM launched an office for their Watson Machine Learning. IBM partnered with hospitals to use Watson to help doctors in oncology predict tumors with greater accuracy. “Microsoft plans to advise and support Kazakh developers and IT start-ups in integrating advancements in artificial intelligence and cloud computing into businesses,” according to Microsoft Kazakhstan General Manager Tibor Kolejak. Dell Technologies has also opened a development center in Almaty and has partnered with the government to help train students for engineering jobs.
Accenture Managing Director Anton Musin said in an interview with a Kazakhstani newspaper “The adoption of machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies in Kazakhstan is on the way, I would say. I cannot say that Kazakhstan is at the frontier of that type of adoption, but the companies are trying to use it… What I will say, and what is important to say, is that Kazakhstan is not North Korea; it is quite an open country and it can import the technology quite easily. What’s important is that there is a sufficient level of technological basis to adopt already commercialised technologies. So, if something is available on the market, the managers of commercial IT companies can import and implement technologies in this country,”
Kazakhstan’s government is committed to automation and the implementation of Ai throughout the economy and society and little by little it seems to be helping. The first technological university in Kazakhstan was just opened by the government, Astana IT University, where 600 students will study big data and Ai.