Artificial Intelligence in Amsterdam, the City of Freedom
The AI community is absolutely thriving in Amsterdam, specifically the research portion. I’ve met more researchers at Meetups here than I have for years in SF.” — Siraj Raval
Correct! Siraj Raval, the AI education youtube star, moved from San Francisco to Amsterdam for its progressive attitude, which he believes is beneficial for people wanting to pioneer entirely new ideas. True enough, the Dutch capital renowned for thundering electronic music, freedom of expression and get-shit-done mentality, has been working towards positioning itself as a thriving AI ecosystem too. It’s unique culture of innovation, inclusiveness and diversity has culminated in the city receiving the European Capital of Innovation Award last year.
Moreover, Amsterdam is fantastically well connected, both on a local level and internationally. Schiphol Airport, the 3rd busiest airport in Europe, is only 15 minutes from the city centre, and everything else is but a short bike ride away… So, the city of rusty bikes is an interesting place to be, especially when computer vision is your thing. Let’s take a closer look!
Thanks to strategic geographical positioning and suave Dutch corporate taxation, Amsterdam has been a magnet for large corporations and banks for years. A few Fortune 500 companies and other giants such as Akzo Nobel, Heineken, ING Group, Cisco Systems, TomTom, Delta Lloyd, Booking.com, Adyen and Philips have their HQs in the city. This translates into a lot of work related to digital transformation and automation in the years to come. Besides - plenty of corporate capital that can pay for AI-enabled products is one of the main characteristics of an ecosystem that is ready to survive a hype. (Oh yeah, that AI hype...)
Needless to say, the city of the world’s oldest stock exchange has a thriving startup ecosystem, ranking 4th in Europe after London, Berlin and Paris (according to Startup Genome). Thanks to initiatives like Amsterdam Capital Week, the city is attracting more ‘VC-money’ from abroad, turning the small municipality into an international portal for startup funding. Local startups raised €194m of capital in 2016 — a whopping 76% of all startup funding in the Netherlands! And in May this year, Europe’s first AI acceleration program has been launched by early-stage incubator Rockstart — in Amsterdam!
The local ecosystem is also enjoying generous government support through public-private partnerships like Startup Delta and StartupAmsterdam. Amsterdam has long been a pioneer in data science, and with the recent launch of The Amsterdam School of Data Science the growth of the talent pool looks promising. But let’s not celebrate just yet…
So what’s cookin’ in Amsterdam when it boils down to AI?
Time for real talk.
Due to the city’s size and the fact that everyone knows everyone, there’s great potential for collaboration. But the AI ecosystem is young and many of these future-proof connections are being built right now. The two major universities in the city have a joint AI masters program in order to maximize quality and results, admitting over 200 students to start in September — a rise of 30% compared to 2016. Admissions to the UvA-VU data science masters also doubled. The numbers of actual graduates however, seems to be climbing much slower. Not all alumni decide to pursue a career in the AI sphere, leaving Amsterdam with a deficit of highly skilled AI specialists in the job market.
On the other hand, current students & PhD candidates at the universities are hungry for real life application of the AI theories. We are witnessing a surge in efforts of academic labs to connect with the industry, e.g AMLAB for machine learning, Intelligent Sensory Information Systems lab for computer vision and ILPS for information retrieval. Amsterdam Science Park is another great example of how education and research meets entrepreneurial driven innovation in the city.
Exemplified by two strong industry funded labs hosted on the campus, Qualcomm-QUVA Lab conducting world-class research on deep vision and UvA-Bosch DELTA Lab researching applications of deep learning to automotive and computer vision, it’s safe to say that scientists are turning Amsterdam into an important Deep Learning hub in Europe. Influencers setting pace and tone in the research field are Prof. Welling (UvA) and his PhD student Taco Cohen, who recently completed internships at Google DeepMind & Open AI.
A sort of mediator between the research and the entrepreneurial world is ACE Venture Lab, helping entrepreneurship education transfer into market-ready startups. Within their 70 startup portfolio, seven of them work with AI: Aiir Innovations, 904 Labs, Usersat, Constelle, Zazu, 3DUniversum and the ‘celebrity of the AI ecosystem’ — Scyfer.
Academia, although doing a great job on the cutting-edge research, still needs to improve on applicability and accessibility of their solutions. Applying AI in a purposeful way is a challenge for many startups too. ‘At Rockstart, we already have experience accelerating AI startups, so we know how difficult it is to apply AI in a meaningful way,’ said Rune Theill, Rockstart co-founder and CEO.
The city is well served with AI focused events, starting from smaller-scale hackathons to bigger conferences investing more in AI specific tracks. Highlight of the year is undoubtedly the globe’s biggest applied artificial intelligence gathering, World Summit AI, October 11–12 in Gashouder. The event is featuring talks with over 200 industry insiders, including speakers from NASA, Apple, the United Nations, UBER and IBM Watson.
Some of the well known leaders in the AI scene are Sightcorp — a pioneer in the real-time measurement of facial expressions, world famous Elastic & Threat Intelligence Platform EcleticIQ to name but a few. The full list of current players in Amsterdam is listed at the end of this article.
Two cents from the locals
On the question about the future of AI in the next 1–3 years, Amsterdam AI co-organiser Wilder Rodrigues states:
“I think AI, in the form of ML, will grow a lot in the coming years, but more focused on process automation (narrow AI) than on Artificial General Intelligence.”
The future of AI in this little country of tall men, small beers and unapologetic honesty, certainly looks promising. The fact that the Netherlands has the highest level of English proficiency among non-native countries is undoubtedly attracting international talent to relocate to the picturesque capital. Now that the money is slowly flowing in, Amsterdam still has some challenges to overcome on it’s way to becoming the thriving AI hub of Europe.
For example, forming a solid ‘AI-dentity’ — that is to say, what is going to be Amsterdam’s differentiator in the world of AI?
By the looks of it, computer vision is a good candidate.
With TomTom acquiring German self-driving startup Autonomos earlier this year, the global leader in navigation, traffic and map products is upping the game in the field of self-driving vehicles. The recent Machine Intelligence in Autonomous Vehicles Summit as well as the UvA-Bosch DELTA Lab are undoubtedly bringing more masterminds of this field to the city.
The ‘AI-hype’ — although a slowly overused term — is the reason many chatbot developers and AI consultancy firms are promising profound AI solutions to SMEs and enterprises with deep pockets. Corporates too don’t want to be left behind and are acquiring startups with novel AI solutions or building whole innovation departments in-house.
“Currently we see all the big consultancy firms trying to recruit devs to be able to claim that they are also doing AI.” — Jasper Wognum, Founder & CEO of Braincreators
And so it happens, people are working on similar solutions in isolation, reinventing the wheel and repeating the mistakes of others. It’s easy to surf the hype while there is still a lot of myth and misunderstanding about the real abilities of this technology. However, the culture of Dutch honesty prevents the scene from stooping at the hype, and pushes the city forward while remaining critical.
The team behind BrainCreators sees the AI scene in Amsterdam to be in a very early stage with levels of competition staying fairly low. One of the reasons of this is a limited cross-skilled manpower that is able to combine coding and experimentation with AI related algorithms at the same time. The team expects the hype bubble to grow for another year, followed by a wave of disappointment as the wider audiences get a reality check. One of the major realizations being that AI is often nice in controlled and experimental settings but not really functional in actual products and services.
“At some point people will realize they won’t be able to buy their self driving car next summer.” — Maarten Stol, Principal Scientific Advisor at Braincreators
CTO of Scyfer believes the ecosystem is going to grow rapidly thanks to increasing engagement of the government, support of incubators and a close-knit community of AI aficionados:
“In the next three years we’ll see more and more investments in the AI sphere happening in Amsterdam, as big tech companies are slowly spreading their wings to Europe due to our large untapped talent pools” — Tijmen Blankevoort
All things considered, the entrepreneurial nature of the Dutch and the attractive (B2B) business climate for foreign talent — Amsterdam seems to be well positioned to build up momentum with more companies executing on major AI fields. Certainly, more and more people want to live in the well connected and beautiful capital. Nonetheless, time will tell!
Introducing the faces behind [AMSTERDAM AI] community
Simona Nickmanova — Amsterdam’s goto startup event curator and former Head of Community at CITY.AI started Amsterdam AI early 2016 as a joint effort with Christoph Auer-Welsbach. She is the connector of the dots behind this initiative and an ambassador for more Women in AI. If you want to host events, collaborate or connect within Amsterdam’s AI and startup scene, Simona is your person!
Jasper Wognum holds a masters degree in Artificial Intelligence from long before the current hype. Born and raised in Amsterdam with a vast network in both the startup community and the corporate landscape. AI entrepreneur with Artifam and BrainCreators.
Wilder Rodrigues studied Computer Science in Brazil and moved to the Netherlands back in 2008 to work at TomTom. As a strong self-study practitioner, he spent the last 3 years studying AI, from famous literatures to practical courses. Nowadays, Wilder works as a Principal Software Engineer & Innovations Evangelist at Irdeto, implementing Face Recognition and Speech-to-Text processing to improve the Online Piracy Detection system.
Christoph Auer-Welsbach chose Amsterdam as one of the first cities bringing practitioners and peers applying AI together. Today, with his co-founder Mike Reiner, he’s focusing on building a global applied AI community following the vision of enabling everyone to apply AI.
What can we do for you?
If you’re interested in getting involved with AI in Amsterdam, our community is a perfect starting point. Amsterdam AI is all about enabling more people to apply AI and strengthening the local ecosystem. We achieve this by identifying leading practitioners locally and encourage them to share their lessons learned at our events. We’d love to hear from you if you have an experience to share with our community — so do stay in touch with the Dutch at email@example.com!
Simona Nickmanova & the Amsterdam AI team
Help me list & map the local ecosystem
Aiir — Developing AI solutions for the maintenance market, focussing on automatic detection of damage. Based at the Amsterdam Science Park originating from the combined efforts of successful students.
Aidence provides radiologists with a software platform that automatically detects and classifies various disorders on multiple imaging modalities. They use Deep Learning to teach computers to read medical images and automatically provide structured reports.
Artifam Arti is an AI powered platform that automates and streamlines data cleansing, categorisation and enrichment tasks. It utilizes intuitive machine learning algorithms to provide science-driven recommendations on the right categories to target when selling products through web shops and other online marketplaces.
Brain Creators’ strength lies in deep understanding of machine learning, deep learning and artificial intelligence, combined with decades of experience in building end-to-end software solutions. They are offering a wide variety of education in AI, consultancy and research for companies seeking to leverage AI technology.
Cupenya AI powered solution for next generation Customer Service, Cupenya is a young and dynamic startup driven by the mission to create a smart and accessible business analytics solution. In 2015, they initiated a series of AI meetups at Rockstart.
Flavourspace aims to create a food discovery engine using AI & Big Data, to help users navigate through realms of known and unknown flavours.
HAL24K Dutch Smart City Startup with offices in Amsterdam, London and Silicon Valley. It’s their mission to harness the power of AI techniques such as machine learning, deep learning and data science to help cities become more intelligent.
Media Distillery develops technology that analyzes audio and video content in real-time. They apply cutting edge deep learning, artificial intelligence and data mining techniques such as speech, logo, text and face recognition to filter all relevant information. The synergistic approach of combining these different technologies provides highly accurate results.
Nine Connections is a social AI tech company headquartered in Amsterdam. They use a unique and predictive algorithm enabling easy discovery and distribution of the right content at the right time to the right people.
Recruitz.io is a fully automated job advertising platform / data driven job advertising platform merging programmatic buying, artificial intelligence and a wide variety of online media channels to optimize each campaign using automated A/B-testing.
Sightcorp’s Face Analysis Technology is a pioneer in the real-time measurement of facial expressions combined with age, gender, ethnicity, head gaze and precise eye tracking functionality. They can pride themselves for having more than 15 years of R&D in the analysis of faces and human behavior, close collaboration with the University of Amsterdam and an in-house team with high expertise in AI and Computer vision.
Scyfer, a spin-off of the University of Amsterdam. The company harnesses the most advanced technology to push the boundaries of AI, allowing their machine-learning experts to work directly with businesses to implement the tech.
Textkernel offers high quality multilingual CV parsing and semantic search, sourcing, lead generation, matching tools and labour market statistics to accelerate and improve the process of matching demand and supply in the job market. Textkernel combines artificial intelligence, machine learning and semantic technology.
Tiny bots — Developing small social robots that assist the elderly with dementia by providing systematic reminders, personalized music, storytelling, cognitive therapy, and spoken instructions for daily tasks. Using an app, the formal and informal caregivers can configure a Tinybot for personal needs and wishes.
UserSat — specializes in predicting users emotions on mobile platforms and can process the entire set of touches, movements and actions to provide clear evaluation of each part of your app from a customer’s point of view
Xomnia works with a bunch of gifted data scientists, big data engineers and advanced BI professionals guided by senior business developers, project managers and data driven innovation experts in the big data consultancy projects. Next to consultancy, Xomnia provides intensive one-year programs to kickstart the career of talented Artificial Intelligence or Business Analytics graduates (MSc) as a Data Scientist.
Zazu — an artificial intelligent personal assistant that will schedule your meetings.
904Labs is offering next-generation search engines to e-commerce sites. A no-nonsense company, turning scientifically proven methods for onsite search into efficient, fully-functional, and easy-to-integrate solutions.
3DUniversum is developing 3D technology based on cutting-edge academic research. The team is specialized in 3D computer vision, object recognition and deep learning. The company’s objective is to allow everyone to scan and print 3D objects, humans and scenes with their unique 3DMultiScan software.
SMEs & CORPORATES that apply AI (and we know of…)
ZyLAB ZyLAB has bundled three decades of development, innovation and expertise in ZyLAB ONE eDiscovery. Their complete end-to-end eDiscovery solution uses Artificial Intelligence and Data Science tools to accelerate truth-finding missions along the typical dimensions: Who, When, Where, Why, What, How and How Much.
EVENTS IN AMSTERDAM WHEN YOU’RE INTO AI:
Worldsummit AI — Supported by both Amsterdam AI & City AI: this event aims to be the only industry organized tech-summit for the entire applied AI ecosystem in the famous Gashouder → October 11–12
Amsterdam AI — Amsterdam AI focuses on bringing the local AI community together on a quarterly basis to discuss applied AI, share lessons learned, use cases and grow the local ecosystem.
The next web (TNW) — Founded and hosted annually in Amsterdam, The Next Web Conference is one of the leading technology & business events for forward thinkers.
Singularity University Netherlands — Hosting summits, events and challenges related to exponential technology, entrepreneurship and leadership.
Machine Learning Netherlands — (General, Academic, Developer)) Everything AI, business talks and corporate challenges.
Amsterdam Data Science — (Academic) Initiative from the universities and colleges. Meetups every three months with monthly seminars.
Artificial intelligence business models (Business, Applied AI) — For everyone who wants to explore business models based on the latest Artificial Intelligence developments.
Fraiday — (General, Developer, misc) — Hackathons, SmartCity, Creative and all sorts of interesting meetups & events related to AI.
Textkernel Talks — Textkernel decided to open their in-house tech and practical talks for public.
SUPPORT ORGANISATIONS & LABS IN THE AI SPHERE:
Ace venture Lab is an Amsterdam based incubator that combines activities of the University of Amsterdam (UvA), VU University, Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (HvA) and the Amsterdam School of Arts (AHK). It is their ambition to become a leader in accelerating science based and technology companies which are the drivers of innovation, economic prosperity and job creation.
Rockstart Accelerator Amsterdam-based accelerator program Rockstart, which focuses on helping startups through their first 1,000 days, has launched a new vertical program for artificial intelligence startups — touting it as Europe’s first AI-focused accelerator.
Amsterdam Science Park — Home to the University of Amsterdam’s tech/science faculties while having a large number of incubators, support organisations and entrepreneurial organisations on site. Currently one of the largest data centers is being built there.
Intelligent Sensory Information Systems group is focusing on the grand challenge of unlocking the content of digital images and videos. They address the complete knowledge chain of image and video retrieval by machine and human.
Information and Language Processing Systems group is part of the Informatics Institute of the University of Amsterdam with their research aimed at intelligent information access, especially in the face of massive amounts of information
Amsterdam Machine Learning Lab conducts research in the area of large scale modelling of complex data sources
Qualcomm-QUVA Lab conducting world-class research on deep vision
UvA-Bosch DELTA Lab researching applications of deep learning to automotive and computer vision
eScience center is the national hub for the development and application of domain overarching software and methods for the scientific community with a mission to enable digitally enhanced research. They fund and participate in multidisciplinary projects with academia, they core expertise being in the fields of optimized data handling, efficient computing and big-data analytics.
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… and a little artsy treat for the ones that read this far!