The first annual event of the GATE Institute took place on December 10th, 2020, online. The Big Data and Artificial intelligence forum (BDAIF) aimed to demonstrate how Big Data and Artificial Intelligence can tackle society’s problems, to enable the exchange of ideas with leading researchers – partners of GATE, to present the results and raise awareness of the activities of the institute. It was organized in collaboration between the GATE Institute, Bulgaria and Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden.

The event’s programme was split into the following panels: Big Data and AI; City Digital Twins: Achievements and Digital Chances; Digital Health: Opportunities and prospects; and Disinformation research and policy responses in the Balkans. Furthermore, the programme included special showcases dedicated to the European Big Data Centres of Excellence and start-ups pitches, presenting research and innovation excellence in Big Data and AI.

In the first part of the conference, the Director of the GATE Institute, Prof. Sylvia Ilieva presented the achievements of the Institute in its first year.

The GATE Institute has recruited a total of 29 researchers working on socially significant topics. Thanks to them, the institute has published 9 articles in conference proceedings and in leading scientific journals. Over the past year, the institute submitted 15 project proposals in funding competitions and won funds for 5 of them.  The Institute’s team organized 8 events like “Future Cities and Their Digital Twins” and “Big Data and Artificial Intelligence in Digital Health” as part of the Biotech Atelier, seminars, information and open-door days. GATE was presented at almost 30 events such as webinars, forums, meetings, workshops and scientific conferences like AI Romanian days, Forum Real, Innovative Sofia meets innovative Tallin, Doing business with Sweden – a mutual opportunity for Bulgaria and Sweden, European Researchers’ Night.

GATE is a member of the Big Data Value Association and the International Data Spaces Association and recently signed an agreement to become IDS Hub Facilitator for Bulgaria.  It is also part of the network of the European Big Data CoE.

GATE’s main goal is to create an evolving European ecosystem – a bridge between industry and the scientific community. That is why the institute strengthened its partnership with technology companies such as SAP Labs – Bulgaria, Bosch, Ontotext and Rila Solutions, which provide resources to support GATE’s research. Recently, a cooperation agreement has been signed with Sofia Municipality as part of the Sofia Digitalization Strategy.

Next year a building will be built for the institute, where its scientific activity will be accommodated along with its innovative laboratories. They will be open to students and partners for demonstration, experimentation and testing of new technologies and solutions. The project of the building is already available, and its construction is planned to begin in the spring of 2021.

In addition to the construction of the building, GATE’s plans for next year are to attract more junior and senior researchers.

“We hope that we will have the opportunity to turn this Forum on Big Data and Artificial Intelligence into a tradition and every year to exchange experiences and ideas in order to develop the research in the field of Big Data and Artificial Intelligence, “said Prof. Silvia Ilieva, Director of the GATE Institute.

An address to the institute and the event was made by Karina Angelieva, Deputy Minister of Education and Science in Bulgaria. She highly appreciated the efforts of GATE and its director, prof. Sylvia Ilieva, to tackle the challenges over the past year. Ms Angelieva congratulated the GATE’s team for the results achieved and wished them “to keep the spirit”.

Peter Dröll, Director of Prosperity at DG Research and Innovation of the European Commission, stressed upon the importance of the investments in AI so that the EU could become a global hub for AI. “On the part of the European Union, we want to see the centres of excellence in the field become stronger so that we can create this Artificial Intelligence hub in Europe. That is why I hope that one day, when we can travel freely again, we will have the opportunity to meet and discuss how we can work together and develop what you are doing in Bulgaria,” said Peter Dröll.

Over 300 people registered for the event – mainly from research organizations and technology companies – to join the discussion on the four main topics of the event.

The first panel brought together representatives of leading initiatives that were paving the way for European-governed data sharing spaces  – a key enabler for scaling AI. Some of them were partners of GATE and had a great contribution to laying the GATE’s foundations. Edward Curry of the Big Data Value Association (BDVA) was the moderator and keynote speaker of the panel. He gave a talk on the topic: “How Dataspaces will power AI in Europe”.  The panellists Ivica Crnkovic (CHAIR, Chalmers University); Torsten Huelsmann (International Data Spaces Association) and Georgi Ganev (Country Leader at IBM Bulgaria) discussed how regional players could participate in data sharing spaces by exploring the right technical know-how, experiences and commitments needed. In addition to the issues of data sharing and increasing access to them as a means of developing Artificial Intelligence, participants also discussed trust in the use of data. These matters were further developed in the following panels through the prism of their specific topic.

The second panel “City Digital Twins: Achievements and Digital chances” was moderated by Graham Kemp of Chalmers University.  The keynote speaker Jarmo Suomisto (Helsinki Municipality, Finland) and the panellists Anders Logg (DTCC, Chalmers University), Sisi Zlatanova, (UNSW Sydney, Australia) and Mila Koeva (the University of Twente, The Netherlands) discussed the current achievements, challenges and digital chances of city digital twins, focusing on their exploitation for building more livable, inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable cities. Dessislava Petrova-Antonova, Research Leader at the GATE Institute presented the project “City Digital Twin”, which aims to create a 3D model of Sofia, starting from the Lozenets district. The project is implemented in cooperation with Sofia Municipality, as part of the Sofia Digitalization Strategy. The city’s “digital twin” will help the municipalities make informed decisions by forecasting their outcomes. It provides modelling of complex socio-economic processes and testing of strategies before their implementation in a real environment, which will increase the success of planned activities and projects, and will achieve sustainability of results.

The third panel made an overview of the opportunities and prospects in Digital Health. The moderator Dean Palejev, Research Leader at GATE Institute, the keynote speaker Milan Petkovic of Big Data Value Association and the panellists Rosen Dimitrov (Digital Health and Innovation Cluster Bulgaria), Fredrik Johansson (Chalmers University, Sweden) and Todor Kunchev (University hospital “SOFIAMED”, Bulgaria) discussed various elements of the process of utilizing, analysing and gaining insight from Big Data in the Digital Health domain. It has been emphasized that the pandemic is accelerating the process of digital transformation in healthcare and necessitates the improvement of data sharing at both national and European level. In this context, the emphasis was placed on opportunities for collaboration between different stakeholders – biomedical researchers, hospitals and medical doctors, data scientists, biostatisticians and bioinformaticians, and pharmaceutical companies. The panel also discussed the impact of the advancement of the Big Data, Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence technologies on the field of personalized medicine and transformation of the healthcare system.

The fourth panel was dedicated to “Disinformation research and policy responses in the Balkans”. Its keynote speaker Alberto Rabbachin of the European Commission (Communications Networks, Content and Technology (CNECT)) presented the European Digital Media Observatory and related activities and policies on countering disinformation across all Member States. This was followed by an expert panel moderated by Kalina Bontcheva, Research Leader at GATE Institute. The experts  Nikoleta Corbu (College of Communication and Public Relations, SNSPA, Romania), Zlatina Marinova (Ontotext, Bulgaria), Denis Teyssou (Agency France Press, France) and Todor Galev (Center for Study of the Democracy, Bulgaria) that discussed disinformation in Bulgaria and Romania.

The main topic addressed in the panel was the need to study and deal with disinformation in the Balkans, especially when it comes to political issues. A key problem identified was the lack of tools to track the veracity of information. This was the case until recently in Romania, where a platform is already available, and very soon it would be created in Bulgaria. In this context, the project for verification of information – WeVerify was presented. As the platform currently operates only for Western languages, such as English, German and French, it is important to attract researchers from the Balkans in order to enrich the system with local languages. The panellists also discussed studies of Russian disinformation and media influence, research on disinformation campaigns in Romania and Bulgaria, and the latest fact-checking and disinformation analysis work by AFP in Romania (from November 2020) and Bulgaria (from April 2021).

Between the sessions, there were several video-presentations of CoE showcases – those of the Insight SFI Research Centre for Data Analytics, CeADAR – Ireland’s national centre for Applied Data Analytics & AI, and i2CAT Foundation, Barcelona.  IRIS.AI, Myxrobotics and Kelvin Health JSC are innovative start-ups that participated with start-up pitches.

The discussions and speeches during the conference demonstrated the importance of the topics the GATE Institute was working on and confirmed the readiness of the stakeholders to cooperate in their further development.


The record of the event could be seen here: