BSC launches Aina Challenge, the first official call for artificial intelligence projects in Catalan

28 February 2024

The Government of Catalonia will allocate a total of €1 million to fund up to 22 proposals from companies in the AI and language technology sector, with the aim of bringing new applications to market

The programme, promoted by the Catalan government and BSC as part of the Aina project, was launched at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona

The Government of Catalonia will fund up to 22 projects from companies in the artificial intelligence (AI) and language technologies (TL) sector that develop and improve natural language AI applications in Catalan with a total amount of 1 million euros. The announcement was made at an event held at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in the presence of BSC researchers and the Catalan government's Minister for Enterprise, Roger Torrent, and the Secretary for Digital Policies, Gina Tost i Faus.

The event served to kick off the first edition of the Aina Challenge, the programme to accelerate the use and development of AI tools promoted by the Government of Catalonia and developed by the Barcelona Supercomputing Center Centro Nacional de Supercomputación (BSC-CNS) as part of the Aina project to boost Catalan in the digital era.

Boosting the sector of language technologies and their use in Catalan

The first edition of the Aina Challenge has a twofold objective: to promote the development and improvement of AI applications for natural language processing in Catalan and to foster the development of a powerful sector of AI and TL applications with the country's startups and SMEs.

To achieve this, Aina Challenge poses three challenges in this first edition for technology companies to propose the most innovative solutions with the aim that they end up being incorporated into the market. Participating companies will have to offer a total or partial solution to any of the three challenges:

- AI/TL services in Catalan. Developing new or existing AI/TL services or applications in Catalan.

- AI/TL control and monitoring. Optimising and governing AI in Catalan from the perspective of values and cybersecurity.

- Development of open resources. Nurturing, adapting and scaling TL in Catalan.

Once all the applications received have been analysed, a selection committee will choose the 22 winning companies. Each of the 22 selected proposals will receive a cash prize of €50,000 or €33,000 (depending on the challenge they respond to) plus €15,000 in services and other benefits, subject to the roadmap of a 6-month acceleration programme during which they will have to develop and validate their solution with the BSC.

Present and future of the Aina project

Promoted by the Government of Catalonia as part of the Catalonia.AI Artificial Intelligence Strategy and developed by the BSC, the Aina project aims to generate corpus and computer models of the Catalan language so that companies creating AI-based applications, such as voice assistants, Internet search engines, automatic translators and correctors and conversational agents, can easily do so in Catalan. All with the ultimate aim of being able to interact and live fully in Catalan in the digital sphere as well.

Initiated in 2020, the project now takes a step forward and focuses on those initiatives that may have a path and an application in the field of AI for natural language processing in Catalan.

So far, Aina has already developed the first multilingual language models, all of them open and available to everyone. More than 3,000 users have downloaded its latest model, Flor 6.3B, trained with a corpus of more than 140,000 million words in Catalan, Spanish and English. The solutions developed by Aina are either directly multilingual or can serve as a model for developing AI-based solutions for other languages.

Moreover, thanks to Aina's drive (and with the involvement of users), Catalan is already the first language, even ahead of English, in terms of the number of hours available on Mozilla's Common Voice platform for training speech models. These resources are indispensable for including Catalan in speech applications.

The language technology team of the Aina project is already working on its own GPT3 model in Catalan. In addition, efforts are being intensified to promote use cases and specific applications in the field of voice recognition and machine translation, through initiatives such as the programme to accelerate the use and development of AI tools in Catalan (Aina Challenge), to boost the language technology sector and promote the use of these tools in Catalan.

Alliance with the GSMA to promote AINA

In September 2023, the Generalitat de Catalunya and the GSMA, the organiser of the MWC, signed an agreement whereby the two organisations undertook to work together to jointly promote the Catalan language in the technological and digital sphere on a global scale through the Aina project.

Within the framework of this initiative, the Catalan government and GSMA collaborate to openly promote the activities and tools developed by the AINA project globally; to raise awareness of the benefits generated by the use of these techniques for digital citizens; and to share experiences and learning about efforts for the digital preservation of language and culture.

Within the framework of this alliance, the presentation and launch of the first edition of the Aina Challenge during the MWC has the collaboration of the GSMA Foundry, which is working to bring the initiative to interested international actors and centres.