Ireland’s AI revolution: Minister Pat Breen hosts Digital 9 EU conference

15 May 2018

Image: PHOTOCREO Michal Bednarek/Shutterstock

Leaders from nine of the EU’s top digital economies were welcomed to Dublin’s Digital Hub by Minister Pat Breen, TD, to discuss the potential of AI technology.

Minster of State for Trade, Employment, Business and EU Digital Single Market Pat Breen, TD, today (15 May) welcomed a number of EU ministers at the Digital Hub’s Digital Depot for the Digital 9 (D9) EU conference, which brings together nine of the top EU countries as ranked by the Digital Economy and Social Index (DESI) to discuss the issues of forward-thinking tech economies.

The event was a joint effort of the Irish Government’s business development departments, the IDA and Enterprise Ireland.

These D9 representatives meet regularly. They have convened in Stockholm, Brussels and now Dublin, and will convene again in Estonia next year.

“Today’s meeting is all about our commitment, first of all, to the digital economy,” said Minister Breen, “It’s an opportunity for me as Minister to showcase what Ireland has to offer, particularly some of these innovative indigenous companies that are based here in Ireland.”

He added: “It’s high visibility to have a meeting like this here […] and it’s a fantastic day for us.”

Minister Breen was quick to stress that the widespread anxieties about the potential for AI and automation to unseat people from their jobs is something the representatives at the conference have seriously considered.

“We’re monitoring [this] very closely. This was part of our conversation that we had in Stockholm [at the 2017 Digital 9 meeting].

“McKinsey did a report on this highlighting the fact that while [automation] will displace some jobs, it will replace them with other jobs. Ireland is becoming a magnet for attracting a lot of high-tech companies, and the type of companies that we’re attracting are [ones] that use robotics, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, etc. These are all going to be part of the future of work, and companies must embrace this.”

Making healthcare sustainable

A number of indigenous tech firms utilising artificial intelligence in different ways were also on site to enjoin EU leaders about scaling AI businesses.

Nuritas leverages artificial intelligence and DNA analysis to look for “life-changing molecules” (specifically, bio-active peptides) in food and plants.

“We like to use the example of an apple. What people don’t realise is that within an apple, there is more data than in all social media […] since its inception,” explained Neil Foster, head of strategic partnerships at Nuritas.

While the benefits of many plants and foods are already well-established, trying to pick out the peptide needle in a DNA haystack is a mammoth task that is nigh impossible for the average scientist to achieve in a traditional lab.

“This random process of trying to find things doesn’t bear any end-product,” said Foster. “We use artificial intelligence to find the one specific molecule that is going to have a very life-changing benefit.”

For Nuritas, Ireland’s thriving pharmaceutical industry makes it the ideal environment to pursue partnerships in life sciences. The company hopes to help address an issue in pharma which director of life sciences Dr Chantelle Kiernan sees as detrimental to the sustainability of healthcare.

“Currently, it costs $2.5bn to develop one drug and takes maybe 20 years to develop that drug. If you’re a drug company, for every 10 discovery programmes that you initiate, nine of them will fail.”

Patients never access these drugs that don’t survive regulatory approval, and the ones that do are required to absorb the cost of the failure of the other nine, resulting in medicines ending up exorbitantly priced and unaffordable.

“What [Nuritas] can do is reduce discovery down to one year,” said Kiernan. The increased bioactivity of these peptides – 80pc, according to Kiernan – also could potentially address this major pain point for the industry.

Can bots weed out fake news?

Aylien helps companies, founder and CEO Parsa Ghaffari explained, “understand human-generated content the same way humans would using artificial intelligence and machine learning”.

The data tools produced by AI can extract insights and deliver salient data points on text such as news articles. It can analyse content (who is mentioned, what products are mentioned) as well as the sentiment of the article, and even detect bias.

While this kind of comprehension comes easily to a human, teaching an AI that level of nuance is no easy task, particularly not when navigating an internet landscape now famously blighted with fake news and bot-generated data.

“Recently, we did a project with Microsoft to detect the stance of journalists within news articles about various subjects,” said Ghaffari.“It’s hard to separate fact from opinion a lot of the time, so [we asked] how we can use this technology to separate facts from opinions and deliver [that distinction] to the end user.”

Flying high with AI

The variety of companies on hand at the event demonstrates just how ubiquitous the potential applications of AI truly are.

Boxever, for example, operates more specifically in the airline and travel sphere, providing “omnichannel optimisation” for these companies.

“Our simple mission,” said Dermot O’Connor, VP of product and engineering, “is to use data and AI to help brands make every interaction with their customers smarter.”

He continued: “A lot of these big companies we sell to have lots of customers and digital touch points (mobile apps, websites, call centres, emails), and they’re struggling to understand what their customers are doing […] and they’re struggling to communicate effectively with them.”

Boxever’s “customer intelligence cloud” accesses first-party data and creates “a clean record of what the customer has done across any of those digital touch points”.

Art and the machine

It would be remiss to assume that AI has purely enterprise-oriented applications. This is no better encapsulated in Artomatix, a creative start-up which aims to address an issue with creating digital content – particularly 3D content, which “takes too long and costs too much” as co-founder and COO Bart Kiss explained.

“[Artomatix] enables 3D artists to automate the creation of their content thanks to AI.”

Automation and creativity may seem, at the face of it, to not be things that can be married successfully. But, for Artomatix, their goal is simple: help artists utilise technology to the best of their ability.

“I think AI is just another tool in the toolbox of the artist,” Kiss said.

Artomatix just wants to create tools, such as the ArtEngine, which allow artists to create without the impediment of headache-inducing processes, such as some of the more monotonous elements of photogrammetry. ArtEngine is able to streamline the process of emulating real-life objects in a digital space quickly.

Eva Short was a journalist at Silicon Republic