Interest in artificial intelligence is at ‘fever pitch’, according to the technology market research company IDC. If measured in money, the heat will reach almost 20 billion this year – that’s the dollar amount IDC forecasts that companies will spend on AI and cognitive computing. But in fact, the temperature around these technologies has been rising for some time.
Many industries, including banking, manufacturing and healthcare are scrambling to get involved. Top of the pile will be retail which IDC says will outspend all others on AI this year. As The Economist noted in a recent editorial, Amazon has successfully used artificial intelligence to win huge market share. The article quoted Goldman Sachs MD Heath Terry talking about how it could give some businesses an edge that puts them far ahead of competitors.
If AI appears to be in vogue right now, it’s worth remembering that scientists and mathematicians have been wrestling with the concept of thinking machines since the mid-1950s. The subject continues to tax the brightest minds today. According to AI Index, the number of AI papers has grown by more than 9x since 1996 – outshining the rise in papers discussing general computer science.
Amid all kinds of pronouncements about AI’s transformative abilities, will there be a role for Ireland in this brave new world? To find out, in late 2016 executives from IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland and Science Foundation Ireland invited industry thought leaders to discuss AI and its underlying technologies such as machine learning, neural networks, cognitive computing and image recognition.
The group saw two positive outcomes for Ireland: an opportunity for creating jobs from inward investment in a cutting-edge area of technology, and for domestic companies to boost their own capabilities in this area.
The group then developed Ireland’s value proposition around AI by auditing activity across multinationals, domestic companies and academic researchers. That led to the AI Island infographic, which lists that activity in more detail. It covers some of the leading players in AI in Ireland and companies with established centres of excellence in areas related to AI, like data analytics, cloud computing and big data.
The roll call of names includes Nuritas, IBM, Movidius, Accenture, Siemens, Zalando, SAP, HubSpot, Deutsche Bank, Amazon Web Services, Salesforce, Ericsson, Intel, Dell EMC, Microsoft, Fujitsu, Mastercard, Nokia Bell Labs, Huawei, LogoGrab and Soapbox Labs. The infographic also shows how researchers at seven different university-linked teams have been working with AI’s technical building blocks for more than 25 years.
The following year, the group held a design-led workshop with participants from many of the groups featured in the infographic. That exercise by itself showed one of Ireland’s advantages. The country’s relatively small scale makes it possible to gather participants from across many industries and disciplines easily and quickly. The workshop provided a forum where a multinational with an AI solution might discover a potential application in medical devices, pharma or in agri-tech.
Another theme emerged from the workshop: the pressing need for skills to meet industry demand. This has led directly to the creation PostGraduate MSc in Artificial Intelligence, designed by industry participants and delivered as a collaboration between the University of Limerick and the Technology Ireland ICT Skillnet. In addition the Department of Computer Science at Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) has introduced a new MSc in Artificial Intelligence (AI)
The course modules cover AI tools and technologies, machine learning algorithms and data mining, through to deep learning and machine vision. The course also looks at ethics and privacy issues with AI, as well as research methods and theoretical foundations.
Ireland is the first country in the world to develop an industry-driven nationwide postgraduate qualification like this. The Irish Government also confirmed in January that it will allocate €3.5 million to address the skills gap for AI.
Just before this blog was published, news broke that the software company LiveTiles is setting up an Intelligent Innovation Centre in Sligo, with 50 jobs including roles for AI developers and a product solutions team that will use AI technology. Even as artificial intelligence begins to enter the mainstream conversation, it’s clear Ireland is starting from a strong base.
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