Q: Armenia is a relatively small country, both in size and population. What is your vision for the role that the country can play in the global market?
A: In order to have a vision for your country, you have to have a perception of where things are going. We are facing a world where things such as artificial intelligence [AI] and machine learning are [becoming] real. People are afraid, but they shouldn’t be. Some 50 years ago, they were afraid that computers would destroy jobs. In fact, they created hundreds of millions of new, different jobs. AI is the same. It will dramatically change our lives: the way we take care of our health, education, business and politics.
In this context, a small country such as Armenia has to develop its economy harmoniously. We can have a much more prosperous tourism sector; we can utilise our natural resources such as copper and gold, or our agriculture.
It is also a place where we can develop things that will be dominant in the 21st century, such as education. Armenia is a small country that is exporting education systems to the likes of France and Germany. Take the Tumo Centre for Creative Technologies in Yeravan. Any child can walk in, access new-generation terminals and have free lessons around specific topics ranging from web animation to filmography and robotics. [After they complete a cycle of learning], they are encouraged to form their own start-up. Nowadays, many children run to Tumo after school instead of playing football. French president Emmanuel Macron has opened a Tumo centre in Paris, and German chancellor Angela Merkel is also interested.
Q: How do you build an education system that can prepare the whole country for the challenges and opportunities of the technological revolution?
A: Again, education is key. In Armenia we have talented human capital, tradition and culture. Since Soviet times, Armenia has had very high levels of education – Soviet planners realised Armenians have talent and invested big money in institutes of physics, astrophysics and so on. It is also very important to have contemporary knowledge. We are a small country, but a global nation. In the Silicon Valley there are thousands of Armenians, as well as elsewhere in the US and Europe. [We have] a global knowledge that we can suck in.
Then we have to start building relations with the leaders of the world. I have a personal presidential initiative on this, called ATOM: advanced tomorrow. We are in the process of first developing a park where children can come and play and learn about the forces of nature. Second is a museum with big congress hall called The Museum of Tomorrow. Third is a scientific park where 15 big international companies have agreed to come and create labs to do research around AI, maths modelling and big data management. A fourth element is a university platform.
We want to develop something that tomorrow can be an engine to drive the whole economy. Otherwise, tomorrow we will become just a consumer of technology and we will be buying everything from abroad.
Q: How can Armenian authorities increase low levels of public and private investment?
A: We have to change many things, and do a lot of reforms. We cannot have FDI without a proper legal system. And we have to fight corruption. In medical terms, I believe corruption is not an illness, but a permanent medical condition that we [as human race] will never get rid of. The only way to fight it is through immunity: society needs to become immune to corruption, it must consider it unacceptable.
Q: How you do that?
A: Through a combination of things. To use medical terms, we need surgery – arrest the corrupt; general medical treatment – changing the laws; and hygiene – education. It takes time.