Ulster University’s data expertise consolidated in one centre
60 staff across Ulster University already engaged in data analytics-related research
Prof Liam Maguire, executive dean of the faculty of computing and engineering at Ulster University, and Peter Devine, head of business development at the faculty of computing and engineering. Photograph: Nigel McDowell/Ulster University
Northern Ireland’s first dedicated data analytics institute was launched by Ulster University last month.
Carl (cognitive analytics research lab) is a cutting edge research centre that brings together businesses, government and advanced research expertise to explore the potential of data analytics and cognitive applications to support rapid decision-making in areas such as health and medical research, financial technology, international finance, advanced manufacturing and energy, media, and government policy and decisions.
The new centre represents a £4 million investment to consolidate the university’s expertise in data and cognitive analytics into one centre. It aims over the next five years to grow into a 200-person world-leading centre of excellence capable of attracting international experts in the global research community.
Some 60 research staff across Ulster University are already engaged in data analytics-related research, representing a diverse range of sectors from personalised medicine to financial technology. Recruitment will now begin for an additional 12 academic posts.
Recruitment of this scale for a single research area is almost unheard of in academia in this part of the world, according Peter Devine, head of business development at the faculty of computing and engineering. “Putting 12 people in this space over the course of a year is just fantastic. It’s a bit like the American model, and it’s very exciting for us here.”
Artificial intelligenceLiam Maguire
“We have been doing a lot of work on artificial intelligence, machine learning, and data analytics over the years. This led to the university being approached by quite a large number of companies who wanted to talk to us about data analytics.
“This isn’t surprising considering that 90 per cent of the data in the world today was created in the last two years. Data is the new oil, and we have been working with companies in the private sector to solve problems that they might have in this area. We have to look to the future as well and what will be the next wave.”
This next wave is cognitive analytics. “Data analytics has evolved over the years from descriptive where it looked at what had happened, to diagnostic where it examined why it happened, to predictive where it looks at what could happen, to prescriptive where it explores what action could be taken.
“The next big paradigm shift will be towards cognitive analytics which will exploit the massive advances in high-performance computing by combining advanced artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques with data analytics approaches.”
These applications will be capable of detecting fraudulent behaviour in financial services or in online retailing, as well as offering the prospect of predicting the likelihood of disease outbreaks across an entire population.
“In civic society it will assist in evidence-based decision making,” says Maguire. “It will help make better decisions in areas such as social welfare and healthcare, as well as areas like bus timetable scheduling.”
At another level it could transform TV viewing.
“Take Netflix, for example,” says Devine. “Services like that already personalise their content to users to a certain extent. By using cognitive analytics it could learn from each individual user as well as millions of other users to predict with great accuracy the type of programming an individual might be interesting in watching and when they might like to view it.”
Instead of broadcasting the same content to millions of viewer we could move to a situation where everyone received their own personalised and individualised TV channel based on their known preferences.
Key objectiveNorthern Ireland
This will be achieved through industry engagement, the delivery of courses for graduates to upskill them in the area, the introduction of a new MSc in data analytics at Ulster University this year, and an initiative which will see engagement with schools and the community to create awareness of the opportunities from the new technology and to establish the region as a centre of excellence in the field.
Carl has partnered with entrepreneurship promotion firm Catalyst Inc on the delivery of a civic engagement programme with the wider community, as well as the creation of an entrepreneurial ecosystem around cognitive analytics.
“We want to encourage the creation of new start-up ventures in the area,” says Devine. “Our activity is not confined to Northern Ireland. The development of skills in data analytics and increasing research capacity in the region are key cornerstones of Carl, and we are partnering with Letterkenny Institute of Technology to deliver this on a cross-Border basis.”
To learn more about Carl go to ulster.ac.uk/CARL