Courtesy of Yale University

Located halfway across the world, Eastern Europe’s first artificial intelligence and computer science institute launched last week with the support of Yale computer science professor Dragomir Radev. 

On April 11, Bulgaria’s Institute for Computer Science, Artificial Intelligence and Technology (INSAIT) launched, marking a particularly significant moment in the development of global computer science scholarship. INSAIT is the first institute of its kind in all of Eastern Europe, and Radev is taking a major role in the institute’s kickoff as he is chairing the institute’s advisory committee.

“This is the largest investment in AI and CS in a Eastern European University ever,” Radev wrote in an email to the News. “It will be a life changer for the country and for the region. I am very excited to be the chair of its advisory committee.”

For Radev, this is particularly meaningful because INSAIT’s location in Sofia, Bulgaria is his “native city,” as per Yale’s computer science department website.

INSAIT was developed in collaboration with ETH Zurich, a public research institute in Switzerland, and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne. INSAIT’s stated goal is “scientific excellence” in a multitude of categories: engaging in research, promoting international outreach and collaboration and educating youth in the field.

INSAIT’s advisory board, which Radev chairs, is composed of computer scientists from top-ranked universities like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton University and Cornell University, as well as members of other universities and prominent technology companies. INSAIT’s website also specifically acknowledges advisory support from academics in “some of the most elite” American, European and Israeli schools and research teams.

INSAIT offers positions to faculty to engage in research, as well as a doctoral program for graduate studies. Currently, the institute is working to develop a masters program that is set to launch in 2023. 

In addition to Radev, notable speakers at the April 11 launch event included Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov, Bulgarian President Rumen Radev, Head of Google’s artificial intelligence division Jeff Dean, and the presidents of the two Swiss universities heavily involved in INSAIT’s creation.

Slav Petrov, a senior research director at Google, discussed some of the implications that INSAIT’s development will have on Bulgaria during his speech at the launch event.

“Bulgaria has become part of the growing digital and tech economy in the region [of Eastern Europe], and at Google, we believe strongly that Bulgaria has a significant further potential for economic growth arising from digital transformation,” Petrov said at the launch event. “There is a vibrant startup ecosystem, skilled labor force and companies that are using the potential of these opportunities … and I’m sure that a world-class research center like INSAIT will jumpstart new collaborations with the local ecosystem and help it thrive.”

Petrov is also on the advisory board for INSAIT. He noted that throughout his career as a computer scientist in Germany and the United States, he has observed a disproportionately high number of Eastern European computer scientists — which, he said, is partly why INSAIT’s placement within Bulgaria excites him. 

In addition to Google, companies like DeepMind and Amazon are also providing financial support to INSAIT. 

Chairing the INSAIT supervisory committee is Martin Vechev, a professor at the Department of Computer Science at ETH Zurich. Vechev spoke about the “brain drain” that Bulgaria is experiencing in computer science and discussed INSAIT as potentially helping remedy this trend.

“Eastern Europe is full of bright scientific minds – but too often, people’s aspirations are limited due to lack of facilities, funding and support,” Vechev said. “This has resulted in a ‘brain drain’ away from Eastern Europe, a systemic problem that is discouraging innovation. INSAIT is perfectly placed to reverse this trend and compete on a worldwide scale. AWS, Google and DeepMind understand the importance of bridging science and technological divides between East and West to promote inclusive economic growth and recovery, democratize science and attract top talent focused on solving some of AI’s hardest challenges.”

Vechev added that Amazon Web Services, Google and DeepMind are helping INSAIT promote diversity and inclusion in science by encouraging applications from women and other underrepresented groups.

INSAIT’s launch event was live-streamed on YouTube and is available to watch here. 

ANIKA SETH
Anika Seth writes about STEM at Yale, including new programs and investments, and works on the production team. Originally from the D.C. Metro area, Anika is a first-year in Branford College double majoring in biomedical engineering and women's, gender and sexuality studies.