Research and Development (R&D) is the crucible in which companies, including start-ups, discover great ideas and build them into fortunes. This process contributes to building vibrant and sustainable national economies, which transform the standards of living for residents. This summer we opened a new branch in Malta that will serve as our R&D centre in addition to serving as the regional headquarters for the European market (excluding the UK, which will remain our Global Headquarters). Now, through Malta Enterprise (ME), we’ve been awarded a substantial grant to fund our R&D activities in the country, and we’ve also secured a data-science-based partnership with the Natural Language Processing team at the University of Malta (UoM) to collaborate on our first big project.
Malta as Blockchain and AI Island – a nation welcoming the future
Malta is a small island with a sub-million-person population and no natural resources beyond its Mediterranean climate and human capital. Due to this lack of natural resources, the country has always needed to power its economy through its worker base. The country is also a member of the European Union, the Euro Area, and the Schengen Area, making it easy for other Europeans to move to the island and do business without foreign exchange risks or major restrictions on movement.
Moreover, the cost of living can be considerably lower in central areas of Malta than in major metropolitan regions in other parts of Europe, like Paris or London. Malta’s mild climate and lower cost of living compared to many European economic hubs, as well as the high quality of life, make enticing professionals that much easier. This bolsters Malta’s knowledge worker base with personnel and talent, ensuring the Maltese islands remain a vibrant and attractive hub for global professionals.
The government has been friendly to the tech sector, as well. One of the country’s most successful industries has been iGaming, an industry that lives in cyberspace and therefore requires much less physical land area but can easily serve customers around the globe. The success in this space demonstrates the country’s capability for providing online services in high-demand markets. With the spread of blockchain as a workable technology, the government seized the opportunity to foster yet another high-demand technology sector.
Malta has been promoting itself as the Blockchain Island, and since 2018, the government has materially supported the initiative by enacting legislation to promote the technology’s growth in the country. At a time when many countries are limiting the ability of blockchain- and crypto-based fintechs to do business freely – or inaction is causing untenable uncertainty – Malta is providing clear, inviting, and business-friendly regulatory frameworks for such ventures.
The strategy adopted by the Maltese Government has induced Binance, the world’s largest cryptocurrency trading platform, to relocate its headquarters from East Asia to Malta. The Malta Stock Exchange also supports national goals and has partnered with Binance to provide security tokenization, a new way to trade equity. Many companies are also planning Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) in the country, thanks to the well-defined and welcoming regulations.
With the success of iGaming and the blockchain initiative underway, the country is now aiming to expand its boundaries and position itself as a global launchpad for AI projects. This was recently substantiated by the launch of Malta’s AI strategy. This push has created another moniker for Malta in addition to Blockchain Island: AI Island. Such names suggest a country that is looking towards the future of global economic value production.
As part of a wider push for general R&D in the country, an initiative termed Research and Development 2014-2020 has been in force, enticing overseas businesses to pursue R&D activities within Malta. The main goals of the initiative and the policies supporting it bring both talent and intellectual property rights, leading to better connections in the tech world and greater revenue streams as the IP is monetised.
What the CEO of Malta Enterprise, Kurt Farrugia, has to say about our collaboration and plans, plus their vision for Malta in the future:
CityFALCON’s Malta Branch and the R&D project
This summer (2019) we opened our newest branch and our first regional headquarters in Malta. The branch will largely focus on R&D operations, particularly the expansion of our backend systems to languages beyond English. The branch will also serve as a base for our EU operations.
Now, we are glad to announce our receipt of a significant grant for our project – Natural Language Processing (NLP)-driven, multilingual financial news and content search solutions.
For the project, our first order of business is to extend our non-English content bases. We will use NLP and AI to ferret out the most relevant and important content for users with native accuracy, just as we do in English. It also streamlines search functions both on the consumer side and on the backend systems.
As we build these databases, we can provide language- and culture-specific entity tags to ensure our customers receive relevant and accurate results. Individual tags in their own language context are more accurate than translating single words that encapsulate complex ideas, and it helps our sentiment analysis by better aligning the whole base with a culture’s specific views.
Having language-specific data also means search, watchlist, and trending results will be more accurate. Since words do not map one-to-one across languages, sometimes word-idea clusters (the ideas covered by a single word) shift between languages. Translation does not always capture this shift, but maintaining native language data will not require any shift at all. As our database grows, we will also search for efficiencies, such as connecting entities in different languages.
For example, we may have oil-en ↔ Öl-de ↔ 석유-ko. A user with English, German, and Korean enabled as their language filters will be able to enter a single search term, in any of the three languages they prefer, and receive news from all three with native accuracy – no problems with interlingual word-idea clustering and no need to store translated copies of every story.
All of this will then be expanded to our voice platform, which carries its own set of challenges, such as processing and returning accurate data when the query is posed in a language other than English.
The final segment of our project will centre around a more academic pursuit with strong commercial and intellectual property potential, which will be undertaken in partnership with the University of Malta. More details on the partnership and our strategy below.
On the human capital front, we plan to hire more than 15 financial analysts who are natives of non-English languages to help build our systems. Since the roles require a thorough understanding of financial markets, a complementary understanding of linguistics, and some passing knowledge on how our computer systems work, those hired will be professionals with at least university degrees and may come from outside the country. As the main parts of these non-English systems come online, the employees will start developing business connections via sales to their home countries and markets, connecting them to the Maltese economy and business community.
Collaboration with the University of Malta
As part of the project, we are collaborating with the University of Malta, where two researchers in natural language processing will be providing guidance on the project. The cooperation, combined with the efforts and knowledge from our company, form an opportunity for knowledge sharing across corporate-academic and international lines.
In support of the community of academic researchers in Malta, the project will employ, via the University, a full-time postdoctoral research fellow to conduct research on related areas in the NLP and linguistic fields under the supervision of members of the Institute of Linguistics and Language Technology. As a partially academic pursuit, any breakthroughs may be state-of-the-art and eligible for IP and patents.
The vision and thoughts of the two advisors working on the project, professors Dr. Albert Gatt and Dr. Lonneke van der Plas, both of the Institute of Linguistics and Language Technology at the University of Malta:
Our Integration with the Maltese Business Community
Since opening our offices in Malta in Summer 2019, we’ve started integrating into the business community, making connections with locals involved in academia, government, and business. For the general public, we host a meetup that focuses on educating and discussing financial concepts. With this group we’ve been able to connect on a more personal level with the business community and with residents who may simply be interested in finance and investing. Members also become messengers for the wider public, spreading the CityFALCON name and vision to friends, family, and coworkers.
As our project progresses and more people join our team, we will expand our connections and become a part of the economic fabric of the country.
Our vision will ensure that no user segment is excluded because we don’t support their language, helping us to become a truly global company.
We would like to express our gratitude to Malta Enterprise and the Government of Malta for the opportunity to accelerate our research efforts with their generous grant, and we are excited to embark on this journey that will transform our company from a small Anglosphere-centered company to an international, multilingual juggernaut.
To invest in our idea and future, consider joining our next fundraising round. The minimum investment for an equity stake in the company is only £50, and the round opens in January 2020.