Funding of €12m for CeADAR, Ireland’s national centre for Applied Data Analytics and Artificial Intelligence (AI), was recently announced by Enterprise Ireland to accelerate the development and deployment of AI, data analytics and machine learning.
The funding, which will enable CeADAR meet the growing demand to implement AI technologies, will be matched by an additional industry contribution of almost €10 million, with another €6m expected to be won from other competitive funding sources.
“The funding from Enterprise Ireland and the IDA underpins the work of the centre,” explains Edward McDonnell. “As part of the remit of the centre, we have an ‘open innovation’ policy - which means we take cutting-edge technology and develop what we call ‘technology demonstrators,’ working systems which show the potential of the AI approach. These demonstrators are not commercial projects, but just proofs of concepts that show the potential of our approach.”
These technology demonstrators are made available to all member companies to evaluate at no charge. “We have a novel way of pin-pointing which of the proposals from the membership progress to develop. Twice a year, we approach our membership for project proposals that we should work on.”
The proposals are collated and voted on by the whole membership. “With the approval of CeADAR’s industry Board, we take the top-ranked proposals and assign agile teams to develop them over a 6-month period. We work with the companies during the six months to write a state of the art report on the area, co-design the technical specification and guide the development of the platform as it evolves.
"For the companies, they get leading edge technology to evaluate with zero financial or technical risk to themselves.”
CeADAR is headquartered in University College Dublin and is a partnership with the Technological University Dublin.
Edward has a PhD in Analytics and AI from the University of Edinburgh, is a Fellow of the IEE & ICS, and is the named inventor on 76 granted patents. He has been awarded several international prizes including the Scientific American top 50 technologies that demonstrate outstanding leadership, Grand Award and Overall Winner for Innovation, Popular Science (USA), Horizon Award “10 Cool Cutting Edge Technologies”, Computer World (USA).
His prior positions included European Director of Innovation & Technology Research at Fidelity Investments, in addition to various technical and global senior management roles in the Office of Strategy and Technology at Hewlett-Packard Europe.
The demand for CeADAR’s services is increasing all the time, he points out, as more and more industries engage with the centre to understand how AI can deliver business value for them. “AI is getting a lot of media exposure and companies are seeing their competitors showcase AI capabilities in their improved products.
"There are few if any sectors that will not benefit from the application of AI. Increasingly, more verticals are keen to understand how and where AI will play in their areas and deliver value,” he adds.
Since CeADAR was established in 2013, it has worked with over 80 member companies, completed 60 industry-focused projects and influenced more than 600 additional Irish based companies to move towards implementing data analytics and AI as viable business tools. “We view AI as a transversal-enabling technology, meaning that it is not constrained to any one industry vertical but is applicable across all sectors.
If we rewind back to the establishment of CeADAR seven years ago, it was the financial services companies who were the first to spot the opportunity with Data Analytics and were the first industry group to approach us in numbers. If we fast-forward to today, it is legal companies who now see the potential in the computer processing of documents.
CeADAR’s inclusion earlier this year in the network of 30 European innovation hubs marked an important accolade for the centre. “There was a competitive Europe-wide process to select the AI digital innovation hubs of which 30 were selected, and we were very happy to be included. These Digital Innovation Hubs will form the foundation of Europe’s AI strategy to drive AI innovation into the various regions of Europe.
"The blue-print of a DIH is very similar to the spectrum of activities that CeADAR already undertakes from technology demonstrators, facilitating an ecosystem of companies, brokering relationships and opportunities among its members and helping companies participate in European initiatives.”
Some industry verticals are more advanced in their adoption of AI that others, he explains. “Financial services are definitely to the fore; other verticals have been slow to even explore the opportunities available. In a given vertical, the multinationals will be early adopters, and there will be a host of start-up companies deploying AI solutions, the challenge is really in the middle ground occupied by SMEs.
"AI has definitely entered the marketeers’ lexicon. However, some products may be exaggerating the part that AI plays in them. At the end of the day, if the market sees business value from using a particular technology it will adopt it,” he adds.
Ireland is well placed to meet the demand for AI and data scientists, with analytics and AI priority areas of the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation.
“The State has invested significantly in developing the national capacity in these key areas with centres such as CeADAR, Insight, and Adapt. Practically every college has at least one classroom-based or online conversion Master’s degree course in Analytics and these courses are always oversubscribed.”
Ireland also has a National Masters in analytics and AI programme, in addition to a national programme of centres for doctoral training in analytics and AI. “We should feel confident that we are addressing the demand for talent in the area,” he says.
Ireland well placed to develop as an international centre of excellence in analytics and AI, and a potential source of significant employment in the future. “Almost a decade ago the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation pinpointed analytics as a national priority area for Ireland.
"That policy has served Ireland well and placed us as one of the global centres of excellence in analytics and AI. Several multinational companies have sited their global AI and analytics headquarters in Dublin. In a world that is increasingly datafied and with the presence of significant digital companies like Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Apple the appetite for talent in AI and analytics can only increase.”