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SEMIC 2023: Discover the key highlights of the Conference!

SEMIC 2023: The Highlights

Published on: 22/11/2023 News

In the heart of Madrid, on 17 and 18 October 2023, SEMIC came alive! With over 450 enthusiastic attendees joining us in person and a global audience of more than 800 online viewers, SEMIC 2023 was a sensational success. This year's theme was "Interoperable Europe in the age of AI." Hosted by the European Commission in collaboration with the Spanish Presidency of the Council of the European Union, SEMIC 2023 brought together policymakers from both the EU and national levels, industry experts, international organisations, and NGOs from around the globe. Together, we explored the dynamic synergy between public sector interoperability and Artificial Intelligence, from which compelling use cases and sharing success stories have emerged and which pave the way for the future.

Check the conference recordings on Youtube!

The highlights

On 17 October 2023, as a novelty to the SEMIC Conference, three pre-conference workshops were organised. These workshops gathered specialists and other participants highly interested in specific topics in the context of the connection between Artificial Intelligence and Interoperability to have more in-depth discussions around them. The three workshops tackled the following topics:

  • AI in digital-ready policy design and legal drafting, which explored how tools powered by AI technologies can support policymakers in their digital-ready policy journey.
  • Large Language Models in support of Interoperability, which discussed the current and proposed methods and approaches for the use of large language models (LLMs) and AI technologies in the context of semantic interoperability with presentations focused on the state-of-the-art LLMs and their application to semantic clustering, data discovery and expansion of terminology, as well as other applications that support semantic interoperability.
  • EU-wide registry of public sector semantic models, which aimed to define actions to create an entry point for connecting national collections of semantic assets and explored the value of the registry in preserving and transferring institutional know-how amid the constant reconfigurations of teams working in public bodies. It also address
  • ed the potential of the registry for AI-powered solutions in designing new semantic specifications while rationalising existing models.

On 18 October 2023, the CIO of Spain, Juan Torres Carbonell, opened the Conference by placing interoperability within the framework of the European Union's digital strategy. He also outlined Spain's digital transformation plan which aims to improve public administrations across all levels by 2026. As part of this journey, the CIO of Spain emphasised the need for this transformation to be citizen-centred to promote administrative simplification, improve efficiency, minimise burdens and ensure accessibility of services. Following this speech, Johannes Hahn, the European Commissioner for Budget and Administration, highlighted the importance of interoperability in light of the objective of having all key public services available online by 2030. The Interoperable Europe Act plays a fundamental role to address remaining interoperability aspects and increase the reuse of common interoperability solutions. The Commissioner also encouraged public administrations to harness the power of Artificial Intelligence to transform the European public sector into a better connected, more agile and efficient ecosystem. Veronica Gaffey, Director-General of DG DIGIT, closed the opening session by sharing that AI will be a game changer to revolutionise public administrations. The use of these technologies should be aligned with EU values to build trust and transparency. In this context, the AI Act and Interoperable Europe Act are essential tools for achieving these goals and make data more accessible and facilitate cross-border cooperation. 

Siim Sikkut, Managing Partner at Digital Nation and former Government Chief Information Officer of Estonia, delivered the opening keynote. He shared a practical and strategic view on why, in the age of AI, Europe needs interoperability perhaps more than ever – and why interoperability and semantic work are crucial for the AI age itself. This keynote presented three key stories:

  1. Estonia's journey from crafting a digital agenda in 2013 to embracing AI as a strategic exercise by 2019. Siim Sikkut stressed the importance of data governance as the foundation for AI capabilities. Today more than ever, AI & Interoperability must be seen as strategic partners.
  2. The “Artificial Intelligence for interoperability in the European public sector” report’s conclusions, which advocates for the use of technologies, especially AI, to enhance interoperability, and the value of platforms in accelerating digital service adoption, with a focus on creating versatile platforms that can be reused for various use cases.
  3. A vision for the future of public services powered by AI, exemplified by the Bürokratt programme, which aims to transform government services with personal AI assistants. The former CIO of Estonia emphasised the significance of cross-border AI services and the forthcoming AI Act as a strategic legislative initiative to promote change.

In the morning panel discussion, representatives from Spain, Poland, Denmark, Germany and Estonia shared insights on their respective countries' digitalisation and interoperability journeys. Santiago Graña Dominguez stated that Spain's journey began in 2007, focusing on electronic relationships and interconnected networks. Pamela Krzypkowska highlighted the importance of data quality and transparency for AI to drive interoperability in Poland. Adam Lebech mentioned that Denmark is actively seeking to tailor public services with AI, demonstrating a commitment to leveraging technology. Eileen Fuchs explained that Germany is addressing unique challenges related to data quality and the adoption of AI as part of its efforts to digitise public services. Pilleriin Lillemets, in turn, mentioned that Estonia emphasised the importance of human-centric interoperability. Discussions also covered cybercrime risks, the need for AI education for officials, and the relevance of aligning AI with the European Green Deal to incorporate sustainability aspects.

The conference participants had then the opportunity to attend three parallel sessions, which focused on the following topics:

  1. Digital-ready policymaking and law as code: which identified the current key challenges and opportunities in the fields of AI and interoperability in the light of the "Law as Code" paradigm. The session pointed out the integration of AI in policy design, requiring high-quality legal data in standardised formats. Digital sovereignty in Europe was underscored, with a call for laws drafted in both code and natural language to ensure interoperable rules and bridge the gap between policy formulation and implementation.
  2. Interconnecting data spaces: which stressed the need for a federated architecture and common standards to increase interoperability within and across data spaces. The session highlighted an ongoing paradigm shift in the willingness of governments to share data but also emphasised the challenge of reusing these data by private entities. Interoperability and governance of data spaces were central themes, with a focus on fostering an open data market and addressing technical and semantic challenges to ensure that data spaces are interconnected.
  3. Automated public services: in which speakers shared their experiences in relation to the current approaches to automating access and use of public services with the aid of AI and chatbots. The session explored the rising momentum of AI use by governmental authorities. The dual role of governments as regulators and developers of AI systems was emphasised, underlining the need for transparency and user-centric design. The need for higher quality metadata to ensure interoperability, and the potential of robots for time-consuming tasks in the public sector were discussed. The session also covered AI applications, addressing concerns about accuracy when deploying AI and transparency when adopting AI-based decisions impacting citizens. The discussion also highlighted the importance of deploying AI tools while having careful consideration of their public value and moral considerations.

The afternoon started with three additional parallel tracks. In the “Knowledge graphs, semantics and AI” session, speakers showcased how traditional semantics are leveraged hand-in-hand with AI. The “Data quality in Generative and General Purpose AI” parallel track provided an overview of key data quality challenges across EU Member States, together with discussions on operational strategies to overcome poor quality data. The last session, “Trustworthy AI for Interoperability in the Public Sector”, was about the opportunities in using AI for interoperability purposes in the public sector, including tackling challenges related to transparency and the trustworthiness of AI systems.


In the afternoon high level panel discussion, which had Jack Hamande, Siim Sikkut, Pedro Tavares, Veronica Gaffey, Eduard Mititelu and Carme Artigas Brugal in it participants emphasised the need for digital transformation and interoperability across European countries. They discussed the importance of ensuring that no country is left behind and the role of the Recovery and Resilience Facility in driving sustainable change and facilitating cross-border access to public services. Key challenges include, among others, achieving ethical and human-centric AI. The panel also discussed the need for the European Commission to drive digital transformation, prioritise open standards through the Interoperable Europe Act, foster a digital culture and collaborate with all EU Member States. They highlighted the importance of collaboration, innovation and public-private partnerships in driving the optimisation of public services, as well as of simplifying public procurement. It was noted that ethical discussions involving citizens and businesses, as well as increased education and communication, are essential for successful digital transformation and use of AI. Pedro Tavares mentioned that, in Portugal, the integration of legacy systems with new technologies such as AI is crucial for interoperability, and they are developing an app to assist citizens with legal processes. Eduard Mititelu underscored the importance of collaboration between the government and private sector for innovation in public services using existing initiatives like Catalogue of Services and ION, Romania’s first AI government counsellor. Data is required to develop those AI tools and one way to get this data is through better interoperability. Siim Sikkut also emphasised the need for action over discussion aiming to stay ahead globally by integrating diverse perspectives. Jack Hamande stressed the need for responsible and ethical use of data and AI and informed the audience about the organisation of an AI ethics-focused event in February 2024 in Ghent, during the Belgium Presidency of the Council of the EU. Carme Artigas Brugal finally explained that Spain focuses on human-centred regulations, leveraging talent for the public sector, and promoting digital interoperability with a key emphasis on trust rather than on technical aspects of interoperability.


Finally, in the closing keynote, Mário Campolargo, Secretary of State for Digitalisation and Administrative Modernisation of Portugal, pointed out the EU's collective efforts to enhance digital services, focusing on making them open, flexible and citizen-centric. Legacy systems and data governance are essential considerations for achieving this. He also stated that AI is a transformative tool that will allow us to interact with the public administration services in a completely different way.

Nadia Calviño, First Deputy Prime Minister of Spain, closed SEMIC2023 by summarising some of the key highlights of the day. She underlined the crucial role that the NextGenerationEU recovery plan played to give the necessary resources to undertake very ambitious transformation and digitalisation programmes. To support the structural change that is currently ongoing, she acknowledged the importance of the AI Act to harness the AI revolution, as well as of the eIDAS regulation to foster interoperability. She closed her speech with a message of confidence towards the future. According to her, “the future is not written and it is in our hands to decide whether Artificial Intelligence and new technologies are going to lead to a better future for next generations. A future where we can preserve our rights and values, encourage innovation, create better jobs and continue to be as united as possible in our European Union, deepening our integration and interoperability, and making all systems and our economic relationships contribute to a better world”. 

The recordings

You could not make it to the conference? We have got you covered! The recordings from the sessions are available on the official Youtube channel of Interoperable Europe.


Learn more about the SEMIC activities and visit the SEMIC Support Centre on Joinup!

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See you next year at #SEMIC2024!