Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte visiting the MIT Computer Science & Artificial Intelligence Lab in Boston. Photo: © Allegra Boverman

By Molly Douglas
Innovation Attaché Network

Artificial Intelligence is fundamentally transforming the future of society and work, improving lives and productivity every day.

If you use a smartphone, you interact with AI. It predicts travel time during your mad dash to the airport, and it helps pilot your plane from Points A to B. AI protects your financial identity. It calibrates information flow. If you’re watching Netflix, AI knows what to suggest for next Friday night. And whether you live in London or Kigali, AI is likely improving local crop yield, facilitating better healthcare delivery, and driving unprecedented human connectivity.

AI is our future. The pace is accelerating, and the range of applications is infinite. At the both the back and the front end, AI brings together people and resources from all walks and stripes of perspective, objective, and expertise. But how we practically advance AI, and sustainably advance with it, relies on increased global partnership.

Boston and the Netherlands are two leaders in AI’s forward narrative. This July, with the Netherland’s economic mission to Boston, led by Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Minister for Medical Care Bruno Bruins, we saw why they are a natural fit for partnership and collaboration.

Rina Joosten-Rabau of Seedlink presents Prime Minister Rutte the Dutch AI national strategy update

Why Boston & AI?

Boston is not Silicon Valley, but why try to be?

The city lies at the crossroads of world-class engineering talent and booming innovation culture. Barriers to entry—startup cost, access to venture capital ($6.94 billion in 2017, second only to California), competition for top talent—are lower. Sustained growth feels more feasible. There’s maybe less cynicism, too. In a small but vibrant city, where a diverse mix of students and entrepreneurs rub shoulders with civic leaders, social changemakers, and more, the enthusiasm and passion for joint discovery, cross-sectoral collaboration, and returns to society are still real.

Boston is also home to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which committed $1 billion in 2018 to a new college for computing. The Stephen A. Schwarzman College opens its doors this fall and will bring together the university’s existing research powerhouses, including the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) and the MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab, while launching new initiatives led by 50 additional faculty. Reflective of the nature of AI, how younger generations negotiate the world, and Boston’s highly multidisciplinary approach, 25 of those faculty will hold dual appointments. In addition, other top universities—Boston University, Harvard University, University of Massachusetts, to name but a few—are expanding their AI initiatives, too.

Areas of Application

As Artificial Intelligence permeates all spheres, it’s interesting to drill into the underlying ecosystems. In Boston, we’re watching who’s involved, where interest (and money) actually flow, the social and political drivers behind accompanying policy, and, of course, the forefront of application.

During the July mission, over 150 Dutch innovators descended on the metro area to explore the latest advancements in three tracks: AI and robotics, life sciences and digital health, and climate resilience and water management. Within and beyond Boston’s halls of academia, there are multiple growing areas of AI application. For the purpose of the mission, we predominantly focused on AI’s intersection with robotics and with the life sciences and digital health.

In robotics, MIT CSAIL teams are working on AI for autonomous vehicles with Toyota and for healthcare applications with Philips (and for everything in between). We saw how Boston Dynamics is developing adaptive robots that can nimbly traverse variable terrain and troubleshoot surrounding stimuli. Case-in-point: watch this video of Prime Minister Rutte controlling Spot, the most cheerfully yellow of robotic quadrupeds, as he chases the mission’s photographer down a hill.


In manufacturing, VEO Robotics is using AI to ensure safety for humans and robots working side-by-side, even as they might reach over, around, and behind one another. From the factory floor to the warehouse, Righthand Robotics applies AI in its bio-inspired piece-picking solutions, the sensor-loaded fingers of which can identify, grab, feel, and problem-solve to move variable loose objects. Neurala uses vision AI to build more agile “brains” for diverse applications, including workflow optimization in robots interacting with humans in retail settings. Affectiva uses facial recognition and emotion-sensing AI to improve safety in autonomous vehicles.

In the life sciences, top research hospitals Massachusetts General and Brigham and Women’s have partnered on the Center for Clinical Data Science, which leverages massive amounts of data collected in healthcare delivery to develop their own AI-based clinical solutions. We learned how Google Cloud is using AI to support healthcare organizations in processing datasets ranging from clinical imaging to genomics. Also taking an in-house approach, Philips HealthWorks is steadily launching startups across the road from its North American research headquarters. Recent HealthWorks alums include teams exploring how AI can drive product support. At Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Learning, researchers are using AI to customize soft exoskeletons to individual wearer’s needs.

Visiting RightHand Robotics

It was also intriguing to see how companies like Smartvid.io, which applies AI’s predictive capabilities to construction site safety and project management, are connecting AI to big datasets and unconventional sectors in ways that are not yet generating the same level of buzz.

Why the Netherlands & Boston?

Just six hours over the Atlantic, the Netherlands is pushing forward a parallel envelope on AI.

Ranked second in the Global Innovation Index, the Netherlands is a country that knows how to capitalize on local strengths, build cross-sectoral ecosystems, and position itself for international collaboration. The country’s three technical universities were developed and funded by major corporates, who happily employ their graduates. Government-backed vehicles like StartupDelta (now TechLeap.NL) aggregate and integrate resources, players, and momentum to build robust startup support.

Dutch delegates working on the Netherlands’ new National AI Strategy discussed progress with Prime Minister Rutte in a roundtable during the mission to Boston in July. Earlier in the month, Technical University Eindhoven announced its own 100-million-euro commitment to the new Eindhoven Artificial Intelligence Systems Institute (EAISI, very nicely pronounced “easy”). With an emphasis on preparing graduates for the workforce and sharing many parallels with MIT, EAISI also launches this fall and is recruiting 50 new faculty—many of whom will be women.  Meanwhile, the Netherlands’ Innovation Center for Artificial Intelligence (ICAI) continues to advance domestic AI partnership and collaboration via the Netherlands’ triple helix of research institutions, government, and industry. ICAI’s nine industry labs keep technology and talent development constantly percolating.

Straddling the Atlantic, major corporates investing in AI—including Philips—already have strong presence in both Boston and the Netherlands. Others also have and will soon follow suit.

AI & Robotics mission in Boston with Prime Minister Mark Rutte (© Allegra Boverman)

Steps Forward

From corporates to startups to research institutions, we saw sparks fly between our Dutch delegates and their Boston counterparts in July. With parallel AI agendas and capacity, a shared culture of boundless possibility, and naught but that short flight between, Boston-Netherlands partnership only makes sense.

The July mission clearly planted the right seeds at the right time. Multiple clear leads emerged by the end of the week, and with deliberate cultivation, closer collaboration will quickly ripen. Soon there will be new research partnerships to build, overseas offices to open, and talent to exchange. Book your plane tickets now.