Armenia on the path to becoming a global leader in artificial intelligence

Posted on April. 12. 2024

The Foundation for Armenian Science and Technology (FAST) is coming to New York for the first time to host the Advance Armenia New York Reception on April 4, 2024 at Harvard Hall. 

FAST aims to transform Armenia into a science-driven, innovative country by promoting invention and discovery in data science, biotechnology, advanced materials and robotics. It empowers scientists and technology specialists to transform their research findings into commercially viable solutions. FAST, which is led by CEO Dr. Armen Orujyan, also runs a series of educational programs in order to cultivate young talent in science and technology. 

“We were created with the belief that Armenia should and could become an innovation hub,” Suzanna Shamakhyan, vice president of strategic programming at FAST, told the Weekly. 

Since FAST was founded in 2017 by Nouber Afeyan, Artur Alaverdyan and Ruben Vardanyan, it has worked with more than 300 startups. One of those startups, Denovo Sciences, which uses artificial intelligence (A.I.) technology to create novel therapeutics, was a finalist in the Entrepreneurship World Cup in 2021. 

FAST is at the forefront of innovation in A.I. in Armenia. Shamakhyan believes that Armenia can be a global leader in A.I., considering that the field relies on intellectual capital rather than costly infrastructure. However, the country lacks a systematic program to teach machine learning and AI, and a rigorous math education is not accessible to the majority of schools in Armenia, especially in rural regions. 

To address these challenges, FAST introduced Generation A.I., an educational and career pipeline for A.I. researchers starting in high school. The pilot program, launched last year in partnership with Armenia’s Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sports, has implemented math, computer science and A.I. curricula and teaching methodologies at 16 schools across seven provinces, encompassing over 400 students. 

“Armenia has a very small absorption capacity. It’s hard to do things at scale, because there are too few people in each niche. We need to invest and broaden the funnel of people who come in from STEM fields and increase their quality,” Shamakhyan said. 

15-year-old Mariam is one of nine girls and 11 boys in her Generation A.I. class in the town of Yeghvard in the Kotayk province. “The possibilities of A.I. are endless, most of which I can’t even imagine yet, but I would use A.I. for rapid response to disasters, to improve the health sector and to regulate and improve traffic,” Mariam said. 

Shamakhyan sees the potential for Generation A.I. to become a trademark program that can be exported to other countries. In light of global rapid advancements in A.I., Armenia is not the only country facing a lack of A.I. expertise. Shamakhyan believes Armenia is distinct in that it is home to a wide range of unique educational initiatives, such as TUMO, Armath Labs and Teach for Armenia, concentrated in a small geographic area. 

“We think Armenia is the perfect place for coming up with innovative educational solutions, because it’s small, it has a culture of education, and it has a desire for transforming education,” she said. “We can position Armenia as what I call an innovation in education test bed, a space where you can pilot scale on a national level transformative educational solutions that no big country can afford because of the cost of such transformations in big systems.” 

Armenia is also unique in that it has a high percentage of women working in science and technology. According to UNESCO, less than 30-percent of the world’s researchers are women, while in Armenia, that number is 44-percent. Yet there are few women in leadership positions at science-focused startups in Armenia and across the world. 

FAST is tapping into the potential of Armenian women in STEM to become leading entrepreneurs. It started the Women Innovators program to empower women working in STEM fields with the knowledge, confidence and network to become entrepreneurs. The program provides a 2.5-month capacity-building program, with access to mentorship and networking opportunities. 

Shamakhyan believes that gender diversity in the workforce, especially in STEM fields, is beneficial for economic development. The economic burden on women is increasing in Armenia, due to factors including emigration, brain drain, an aging population and declining birth rate. Equipping women with the mindset and opportunities can bring them into high knowledge industries and boost overall economic productivity. 

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