Ahold Delhaize aims to accelerate AI awareness through new taskforce

Grocery retailer Ahold Delhaize has joined four fellow Dutch companies in establishing a group to promote the use and development of artificial intelligence (AI).

Alongside financial services group ING, airline KLM, transport operator NS and medical technology firm Philips, the retailer is part of Kickstart AI, a new initiative providing a combination of actions to fuel AI education, talent and innovation in the Netherlands.

One key goal of the programme is to bridge the AI gap between the Netherlands and other countries, including the UK, the US and China, which those behind Kickstart AI say have made notable progress in AI development and usage.

The Dutch government, and the country's companies, organisations and universities have identified they have ground to cover in terms of structural investments and availability of global AI talent. The five organisations forming the new dedicated group – which reach millions of Dutch consumers between them each week – can help ensure the Netherlands maintains its position as a “pioneer and inventor of technologies”, they said.

The group wants to explore how AI can help solve societal challenges, and provide new opportunities for consumers in the country.

Early initiatives planned under the Kickstart AI moniker include creating a Dutch national course for AI to increase understanding and fast-track its adoption in the Netherlands.

Maarten de Rijke, professor at the University of Amsterdam and director of the Innovation Center for Artificial Intelligence, said: “The Netherlands has always been a technology pioneer, a front-runner in AI development and innovation.

“The quality of our AI specialists is well-acknowledged worldwide. However, without a national AI strategy and swift action, the severe shortage of AI talent in our country remains one of the biggest roadblocks to realising the full potential of AI talent and technology.”

Ahold Delhaize’s role in the initiative to date sits within the theme of AI for digital customer interaction and conversational intelligence. The projects address developments in conversational technologies such as search, chatbots or multimodal interactions relying on federated search.

The grocery group employs circa 100,000 employees in the Netherlands, through its Albert Heijn, Etos, Gall & Gall, and Bol.com brands. Together, these brands serve around 13 million consumers per week.