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    Moscow Sets Course for AI Tech Development: 'We Can Offer Infrastructure, Equipment, and Materials'

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    From 29 November to 2 December, Moscow will host the final Urban.Tech Moscow hackathon for the Moscow Mayor’s “Digital Transformation Leaders” awards.

    Sputnik has talked to Alexei Fursin, Head of the Moscow Department of Entrepreneurship and Innovative Development, to find out about the programme’s goals, its significance for the city, as well as the prospects for participants and winners of the hackathon.

    Sputnik: What tasks does the Urban.Tech Moscow programme solve for the city?

    Alexei Fursin: The Urban.Tech Moscow international programme is designed to collect all the advanced solutions to the challenges facing Moscow. Each participant, together with a team, creates a digital product and builds their own business based on that product, which is necessary for Moscow and its residents. In particular, the programme is designed [for startups] to prepare for the competition for the Moscow Mayor’s “Digital Transformation Leaders” Award. It will be awarded for developments that increase the efficiency of various urban economy sectors. There are 10 prizes, each worth a million rubles.

    At the same time, an equally important task is to identify promising IT specialists; and not only them, but financiers and people who can become leaders. In this context, an important part of the programme is team building to solve the challenges set. From the teams announced for the hackathon, we should find not only professionals who will then be recruited by large and medium-sized companies, but also those who are able to launch start-ups and run independent business.

    Two players provided the competitive tasks: city departments and corporations. For corporations, the advantage is that they will be able to select the team with the optimal solution, and then make a separate project or hire them to implement their solution. At the same time, during hackathon, city structures with certain procurement procedures for any product or service, face, in fact, a formed technical task. It can then be implemented as an IT solution, which we will be able to legislatively put up for competition.

    Sputnik: The geography of Urban.Tech Moscow is expanding. This year, experts from various countries took part in the programme. How interested were they in the Moscow project?

    Alexei Fursin: If last year only Russian regions took part in the project, today Moscow has invited experts from other countries. There was an international stage of six qualifying rounds (ideathons) in the capitals of six countries. From 26 October to 10 November, ideathons were held in Minsk, Riga, Alma-Ata, Tel Aviv, Prague and Yerevan.

    On 27 November, the teams from these cities came to Moscow – there are 66 winners of the international stage. For them, we did a road-show so that they could see how things are in Moscow in the areas they are interested in. Now they visit large IT-companies and get acquainted with successful startups. They will see innovative infrastructure facilities, including the Skolkovo industrial park, and the Technograd innovative educational complex. We show them what Moscow is today, we show the IT solutions that are already implemented here. And, of course, they’re very much interested in the project – many of them have heard about digitalization and innovative solutions that our city is constantly introducing. Therefore, they quite actively engaged into solving the challenges we’ve set.

    Sputnik: Will these teams participate in the finals?

    Alexei Fursin: Of course. Tonight (29 November), the opening of the final stage will take place; a total of 231 teams from 33 cities will compete in the final stage. The competition will be held in the format of a 50-hour hackathon. Participants will have to develop a solution to one of 10 challenges in certain areas: smart city, finance, management systems, marketplaces, and AI.

    Representatives of the Moscow government and leading Russian companies will be judges for the competition. The final of the hackathon will end the Urban.Tech programme: on Monday (2 December), we will take stock and award the winning teams.

    Sputnik: What will happen to the best projects? Besides the prize, what can Moscow offer them? What will the partner corporations offer?

    Alexei Fursin: Corporations will offer their corporate prizes, as well as provide employment opportunities or secure orders. According to last year’s finalists, large companies “hunted” 90% of the winning teams, not only to work on their projects, but also for long-term cooperation. Today, one of the teams has already turned into a specific business and is now developing a product under the contract.

    As for the city, if the winning teams are subsequently formed as entrepreneurs (it doesn’t matter if it’s a team from Moscow, another Russian city or a foreign one), they will have access to all the tools for supporting small businesses. We will help them, give them the opportunity to take advantage of the entire infrastructure for free, and provide co-working space. Basically, we’ll provide them with full-fledged support.

    Sputnik: Recently, a government subcommittee for AI development was created in Russia, which includes your department. How do you plan to participate in the subcommittee’s work? What can the Moscow Department of Entrepreneurship and Innovative Development offer in this area?

    Alexei Fursin: The creation of this subcommittee is just formalizing the process that we’ve been working on for several months now. It was launched after a meeting with the Russian President; the strategy and concepts for AI development had been actively discussed back at the SPIEF. Our Department’s direction is related to innovation, which includes AI technologies. Therefore, we are looking at how this can be resolved in Moscow.

    And here we will work together with the Moscow Department of Information Technology. We will build a support system, including educational events. After all, in order to implement IT solutions that have already been invented, you need trained people, and the consumer should be ready to use AI technologies.

    Today, we can offer infrastructure, equipment, and materials. We have a large network of technology parks with technological innovative companies, on the basis of which solutions will be worked out. The most important point is “piloting.” Innovative technology, including in the field of AI, must be tested before implementation, to understand its result. We moved in this direction, creating several pilot sites in partnership with various organizations: health care, education, and business centers where you can “pilot” this or that technology. For example, an unmanned taxi is such a project. This is also an AI technology. “Piloting” is one of the areas where the Department will definitely be a support infrastructure for AI developing companies.

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