As we begin to understand more about artificial intelligence (AI) and its potential to disrupt the way we live and work, it is no surprise that R&D efforts in the area are ramping up, as organisations seek to leverage deep data science and AI expertise to find new products and services. A recent global report suggests businesses are expected to spend as much as $98 billion annually on AI projects by 2023.
A significant chunk of this is being spent in Ireland, where many global and homegrown companies are involved in R&D activities centred around AI. Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), along with other industry and academic partners, were recently moved to establish their Centre for Research Training in Artificial Intelligence in response to the demand for research skills in this area. Opened earlier this year, the €14 million institute will function as Ireland's national centre for PhD-level training in AI.
Other collaborative efforts include the Insight Centre for Data Analytics, a joint initiative between researchers at UCD, NUI Galway, UCC and DCU. The €75 million research centre is funded by SFI and a wide range of industry partners.
One of these partners is Avaya Communications. Based in Galway, the $3 billion company delivers large-scale enterprise and mid-market collaboration and customer engagement solutions through enterprise software, the cloud, and hosting partners. Mike Conroy is vice-president of R&D at Avaya, and he explains that the company employs more than 200 highly skilled engineers in enterprise, cloud communications and customer experience technology. When it comes to R&D, Avaya is seeking to satisfy the needs of the 140 million+ users of its technologies across the world, according to Conroy.
“We are in the business of applying AI technologies into a customer base that size, and that’s where we focus our R&D,” Conroy says. “Our aim is to leverage open AI services and technologies and embed them in our systems. This is the big shift in our industry, and it affects how we engineer in Ireland as well as globally.”
The field of AI research is almost unique in terms of the technology’s universal applicability across different sectors, from the automotive industry to communications to food to finance, he says.
“Think of your own life, and you are moving from a shopping experience that is physical to a virtual experience – you do it in the banking world and when booking a holiday. AI is all about man and machine and making you more productive,” Conroy says.
And while in the past there were “a lot of very specific technologies” in each sector, AI has the potential to transform across the board, he adds.
“AI and everything that goes with it, including machine learning, the semantic web, natural language processing, visual analytics, these major strains are applicable in every industry and are huge drivers for open innovation across all sectors,” Conroy explains.
From an R&D perspective, innovation is moving quickly between these sectors, he adds.
“Even five years ago, you wouldn’t have anticipated people coming out of the financial sector or the automotive sector and moving between industries and applying AI technologies across the board. It drives innovation that is cross-sectoral.”
Avaya is currently engaged in a number of joint projects with many universities, in addition to its close involvement with Insight, which is one of the largest AI/data analytics dedicated research centres in Europe. “That means that Avaya doesn’t need to build lots of AI technologies because of the open access to AI services in the cloud from partners we work with.”
It’s just one reason why Government has invested heavily in the space, and why industry and academia are so closely aligned, Conroy notes.