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Bogdan Stešević, Head of the Group for Quality of Services and the Development of Artificial Intelligence; Manager of the Serbian National Platform for Artificial Intelligence

Supporting the Digital Transformation of Business

All indicators show that, of all new technologies, artificial intelligence has the greatest impact on the economic development of society, and we perceive a need to work constantly to improve our supercomputer

It was back in 2019 that t h e government adopted its Strategy for the Development of Artificial Intelligence from 2020 to 2025. In the part that refers to infrastructure requirements, the procurement of a supercomputer is also defined as being necessary to creating a favourable environment for the work of all stakeholders in Serbia’s AI ecosystem. It would be offered for use completely free of charge to researchers and scientists from the academic community, but also to domestic startup enterprises that deal with AIbased innovations and solutions.

“The Office for IT and eGovernment is an institution that has great experience in working with new and advanced technologies, infrastructure and project leadership, so it comes as no surprise that we were specifically chosen to be the competent institution for procuring, installing and managing a supercomputer, as the main computing resource in country,” explains Bogdan Stešević, head of the Group for Quality of Services and the Development of Artificial Intelligence, and manager of the Serbian National Platform for Artificial Intelligence (Office for IT and eGovernment).

How does the state data centre function?

— The State Data Centre in Kragujevac (DDC) opened in 2020 and represents a special facility with the highest standards of reliability, which is confirmed by the certificate received from TÜVIT, as well as the decisions of the world’s largest IT companies to keep their equipment and data at the Data Centre. As an example, company Oracle offers its services to 28 countries from its base at the DDC. That’s why it was the only logical solution for us to locate our supercomputer in Kragujevac, where all the conditions required for that exist, and where our people can take care of this specific equipment throughout the entire year.

After completing the installation and all the testing, we formally commemorated the launch of the work of the National Platform for Artificial Intelligence on 6th December, 2021, with officials in attendance including the President, the Prime Minister, the Mayor of Kragujevac and the U.S. Ambassador, as well as directors and deans of numerous institutions and colleges with which we signed agreements on the use of the AI platform.

With whom does the Office for IT and eGovernment cooperate the most?

— The Office has to this point signed agreements on the free use of the National Platform for Artificial Intelligence with 32 institutions, primarily university colleges and institutes. Apart from users hailing from the academic community, we also have an agreement with all four Science and Technology Parks in Serbia (Novi Sad, Belgrade, Čačak and Niš), as well as with the Innovation Fund of the Republic of Serbia. Those agreements enabled us to launch public calls for start-up companies (two to date) and we thus reached a total of 33 start-ups that have gained opportunities to work on the supercomputer and develop their ideas and products. We plan to make one or two new public calls for domestic start-ups over the course of the next year.

How are the resources of the platform used?

— The number of initiated training sessions and experiments in the last six months alone totalled 4,860. The number of projects developed on the platform exceeds 40, and among them are ones that are very significant at the global level, such as the LSST project. This relates to the world’s largest astronomical project, into which national foundations of the U.S. have to date invested 48 million dollars. A team of Serbian scientists (SER-SAG-1 team) is working on the development of software for data processing.

Among the most notable projects is certainly the work of professors Mihailo Škorić and Ranka Stanković, from the University of Belgrade Faculty of Mining and Geology, on the largest composite language model for the Serbian language (with more than 700 million parameters), which has been created on the National AI Platform. We want to continue supporting teams that are dealing with work on large language models for the Serbian language, given that the existence of such opensource models provides numerous opportunities to create various new services and products. A large number of projects have resulted in numerous publications and scientific papers.

DEMYSTIFYING THE SYSTEM

The system itself consists of very powerful DGX A100 servers and contains 32 GPUs made by company nVIDIA. Apart from this, our users have at their disposal 1024 CPUs and 176 TB of fast DDN storage. For communication within computing nodes and fast storage, we use high-speed InfiniBand network technology, which is the type that’s also used by the world’s most powerful supercomputers. In addition to hardware, the Platform also includes software. The most interesting software for users is the Fast ML engine, which provides a user-friendly interface that simplifies the uploading of data sets, the creating of experiments and training, as well as tracking the entire course of training. Our users naturally also have access to the supercomputer via a terminal (with the help of an SSH client). We’ve endeavoured to render this Platform such that it is able to satisfy the requirements of all users.

I would emphasise in particular the fact that the National Platform for AI project has also been recognised by the intergovernmental organisation OECD, which analysed 1,048 innovative projects from 94 countries and ranked our project among the world’s top 10. I had the honour of presenting our journey from idea to implementation, as well as the results we’ve achieved, at an OECD event, in front of more than 300 colleagues.

All indicators show that, of all new technologies (IoT, Big Data, Blockchains, 5G etc.), artificial intelligence has the greatest impact on the economic development of society, so when we consider this and take an overview of the needs of our own researchers and innovators, and trends around the world, we perceive a need to work constantly to improve our supercomputer. I hope that we will be able to offer even more advanced graphics processors over the next year and I’m certain that we’ll continue this very successful story.