Is Ireland's AI sector punching above its weight?

With €28 million funding directed to Ireland's AI efforts, we look at recent developments and consider the prospects for the ongoing growth of the Irish AI sector.

Following an increase in funding for a government-backed artificial intelligence (AI) accelerator, there are growing signs that Ireland is emerging as a global centre of excellence in the technology. So, what are the key objectives of the accelerator? What are the main strengths and weaknesses of the Irish AI and machine learning sector? And how best can IT professionals get involved in the ongoing growth of AI in the country?

Innovation hub

Late last year, the Centre for Applied Data Analytics Research (CeADAR) secured €12m in funding from Enterprise Ireland - matched by an additional €16 million funding from industry and other sources - to 'accelerate the development and deployment of Artificial Intelligence (AI), data analytics and machine learning' across the republic. The key objective of CeADAR is to act as a market-focused technology centre that drives the accelerated development and adoption of AI technology and innovation and form a bridge between the worlds of applied research in AI and its commercial use.  Based at University College Dublin and run in partnership with the Technological University Dublin, the Centre's work focuses on developing tools, techniques and technologies that enable more people, organisations and industries to use AI for better decision making and sustained competitive advantage. The primary outputs are prototypes, and demonstrators, alongside bespoke projects for companies plus reviews of state-of-the-art technology. As CeADAR Director, Edward McDonnell, explains, the Centre - which is funded by Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland - has particular strengths in machine and deep learning, real time analytics, text analytics, image analytics, visualisation, and Blockchain. It also holds an extensive catalogue of technology demonstrators, IP and technology reviews which are all available to members.

"Industry membership of CeADAR has grown significantly in recent years and now totals nearly 90 industry partners ranging from multi-nationals to indigenous SMEs spanning every industry vertical.  The Centre is also the focal point of a thriving national ecosystem delivering frequent seminars, conferences, and members' networking events throughout the year," says McDonnell.

Since its establishment, CeADAR has developed demonstrators in a wide range of AI-related areas, including customer analytics, contact centre analytics, text analytics, real-time analytics, image analytics, location-based analytics, predictive analytics, machine & deep learning and Industry 4.0 - and carried out work in a range of sectors, including agri-food and oil & gas. In one interesting example of a project developed for a member company, a CeADAR team applied AI to the sensor outputs attached to agricultural tractors, which collect data about the quality of the grassland they drive over and provide farmers with an accessible visualisation of where fertiliser needs to be applied. The Centre has also worked alongside a major Irish exporter of infrastructure

"Precision agriculture is one of the developing hot topics in the field of AI, and one in which Ireland is uniquely poised to succeed," says McDonnell.

Last year, CeADAR was also appointed as one of 30 European AI digital innovation hubs (DIH), which will form the foundation of the European Unions' strategy to drive AI innovation into the various regions of Europe.

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