The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (DETE) in Ireland is leading on the development of a national AI Strategy. The Strategy is expected to be released in Q2 2021 (subject to Government approval).
The National AI Strategy for Ireland, entitled “AI - Here for Good”, will provide a high-level direction to the design, development and adoption of AI in Ireland. It will present an integrated, cross-Government framework giving direction for the steps needed to ensure that Ireland’s use of AI will benefit the economy and society. In line with the EU and OECD approaches, it is envisaged that the main areas covered by the strategy will include: societal opportunities and challenges of AI; enterprise development and deployment of AI; RD&I; human capital considerations; data; digital and connectivity infrastructure; public sector use of AI; as well as ethics, governance, standards and regulatory framework.
The development of the strategy has involved significant stakeholder engagement, including with industry, with industry representative bodies, with academic and research communities and with a multi-stakeholder group of experts. Consultations are continuing across the Government system and an online public consultation has also been conducted. As part of the strategy development, a Top Team on Standards for AI has been established, led by the National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI).
An important pillar for the national AI strategy is the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), which funds oriented basic and applied research in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The research funding aims to promote and assist the development and competitiveness of industry, enterprise and employment in Ireland.
The SFI Research Centre for AI Driven Digital Content Technology (ADAPT) brings leading academics, researchers and industry partners together to deliver excellent science, engage the public, develop novel solutions for business across all sectors and enhance Ireland’s international reputation. Hosted by Trinity College Dublin, ADAPT’s partner institutions include Dublin City University, University College Dublin, Technological University Dublin, Maynooth University, Munster Technological University, Athlone Institute of Technology, and the National University of Ireland Galway.
ADAPT’s research vision is to pioneer new forms of proactive, scalable, and integrated AI-driven Digital Media Technology that empower individuals and society to engage in digital experiences with control, inclusion, and accountability with the long-term goal of a balanced digital society by 2030.
In February 2021 Simon Harris, the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, announced further funding of EUR 42 million to the ADAPT Centre for six years.
Other important flagships for the development of AI in Ireland are the SFI Centres for Research Training (SFI CRT). Most of these centres are co-funded by SFI and the industry and are organised as public-private partnerships between academia and industrial players. The aim of the centres is to build on research excellence and to provide cohorts of PhD researchers with the skills and knowledge required to address the future challenges of an ever-changing work environment. It includes several centres in AI and AI-related fields:
- SFI CRT in Machine Learning (ML Labs): this centre brings together internationally recognised supervisors who work at the cutting-edge of ML research and its application. It offers PhD students an inter-institutional programme in a mature interdisciplinary environment that emphasises state-of-the-art research with an industry-relevant and entrepreneurial focus;
- SFI CRT in Data Science: this centre trains a cohort of PhD students with foundational understanding in the horizontal themes of applied mathematics, statistics, and machine learning. These fundamental themes are fused together by applying them to real-world challenges in vertical themes including data Analytics, privacy and security, smart manufacturing, networks, and health and wellbeing;
- SFI CRT in Artificial Intelligence (CRT-AI): this centre brings together supervisors working across the full spectrum of AI techniques - from knowledge representation and reasoning, machine learning, data mining, computer vision, natural language processing, optimisation and decision-making, robotics, and autonomy. It focuses strongly on the development of AI solutions in domains such as smart buildings, mobility and transportation, autonomous vehicles, public service delivery, manufacturing, enterprise, cybersecurity, climate change and environment, agriculture, marine, food production, and natural resources;
- SFI CRT in Digitally Enhanced Reality (D-real): this centre focus on the development of digital skills for next generation human-centric media technology, including machine intelligence-based sensing and understanding of digital content and information, its transformation and personalisation, its multimodal interaction and delivery via speech, text, and video, and its impactful application in multiple industry and societal settings;
- SFI CRT in Advanced Networks for Sustainable Societies (Advance CRT): this centre focus on enabling technologies for future hyper-networks, including concepts such as network virtualization, dependable communications, Internet of Things, data driven network management and applications in sustainable and independent living. This centre trains the next generation of researchers who will seek solutions to the technical and societal challenges of global hyper-connectivity.
AI to address societal challenges
Climate and environment
Ireland has a wide range of policy initiatives to foster the role and contribution of AI in achieving EU’s climate change objectives. To ensure the provision of high-quality data and to enhance possibilities for data exchange, the Irish Centre for High-End Computing (ICHEC) has established various national platforms:
- Satellite Platform for Ireland (SPÉir): ICHEC has established the Satellite Platform for Ireland (SPÉir) offering access to curated and pre-processed high-quality persistent data from the ESA Copernicus programme Sentinel satellites for use by research, public sector and enterprise organisations;
- ERDDAP server: ERDDAP is ICHEC's data server that provides a simple, consistent way to download subsets of scientific datasets in common file formats and make graphs and maps. This particular ERDDAP installation has oceanographic data (for example, data from satellites and buoys);
- Federated platform for Earth and urban systems data: ICHEC is aiming towards establishing a federation of State Bodies, including the likes of Geological Survey Ireland (GSI), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Agriculture and Food Development Authority (TEAGASC), Irish Meteorological Service (Met Éireann), Marine Institute and the Irish Centre for High-End Computing (ICHEC) to implement a federated and seamless national “data lake” on FAIR principles.
In addition, ICHEC has a wide range of ongoing projects involving public sector organisations:
- National Wind and Solar Energy Forecasts: ICHEC has worked in collaboration with Bord na Mona and a number of national energy companies to improve the accuracy of wind and solar weather forecasts;
- Biodiversity analysis: ICHEC collaborated with NPWS (the Irish National Park and Wildlife Services), Bat Conservation Ireland and QUB (Queen’s University Belfast) to assess the effects of climate change on the natterjack toad and bat populations of Ireland, and to establish a relationship between their historical populations and climate fields;
- Flood prediction project: ICHEC uses ESA Sentinel-1 satellite data to monitor extreme weather conditions and the catchment areas to forecast floods by integrating it with hydrological information such as groundwater levels and stream flow;
- INFER project: ICHEC worked with EPA on remote sensing of Irish surface water to develop products for improved monitoring of water bodies such as lakes.
Lastly, ICHEC contributes to collaborative projects at European level, such as:
- ESA AIREO project: ICHEC is working with the European Space Agency (ESA) for developing community-driven standards, good practices and tools for developing AI-Ready Earth Observation (EO) datasets;
- ESA Space Networks: Ubotica and ICHEC are working with ESA to develop a platform for deploying optimised AI models on-board satellites and updating the models in-orbit to improve their accuracy and performance;
- REDAP project: The methods and tools developed in the REDAP project by ICHEC and a number of European partner organisations helps regions across Europe to gain clarity into the characteristics of energy demand in the building and transport sectors. Understanding the energy demand is a prerequisite for the development of green energy systems.
Furthermore, the business ecosystem is using AI for environmental sustainability. Several Irish SMEs and multinationals are developing AI solutions in the sustainable food chain, waste reduction, and sustainable farming, among others.
Finally, various ministries and public agencies are funding research centres and dedicated research projects using AI to create a more sustainable and green environment in the future.
Projects under the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI)
- Forecasting Renewable Energy with Machine Intelligence (FREMI): This project seeks to increase the accuracy of the current wind turbine forecasting methods and develop and deploy a tool capable of assisting energy traders under the new market rules posed by I-SEM;
- National Artificial Intelligent Dairy Energy Application (NAIDEA): This project aims to bridge the gap between Ireland's dairy farmers and policy makers to further encourage and support the decarbonisation of Ireland's agri-sector;
- Smart Electric Buses (SEB): Applying data analytics and AI techniques for optimal design and operation for electrification of the public bus transportation system.
Projects under the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
- National Landcover mapping project: This project is using machine learning algorithms to classify the Landcover types in detailed boundaries, from aerial images;
- CoronaEU project: The purpose of this project was to confirm if machine learning could be used to screen air quality.
Project supported by the Disruptive Technologies Innovation Fund (DTIF)
- Advanced Environmental Decision Support System for Coastal Areas: This project focuses on autonomous monitoring using sensors for environmental water management and decision support.
Projects and research centres under the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI)
- Crop Optimisation through Sensing, Understanding & Visualisation (CONSUS): a collaborative research partnership between University College Dublin (UCD) and Origin Enterprises PLC that has been supported through the SFI;
- Tracking Adaptation Progress in Agriculture and Food Security Using an AI-powered Satellite Remote Sensing Platform (TAPAS): This project focus on quantitative monitoring of climate adaptation using AI methods;
- AI for Anti-Greenwashing: This project develops AI-based methods to detect greenwashing;
- Marine Renewable Energy Ireland (MaREI): The SFI Centre for Marine Renewable Energy Research;
- Irelands Big Data and Analytics Research Centre (Insight): Centre to undertake high-impact research on big data and AI-related research for the development of sustainable societies, among others;
- The Centre for Future Networks & Communications (Connect): the mission of this centre is to research and develop innovative solutions for the communications challenges facing society today;
- Irish Software Research Centre (Lero): Lero’s research focuses on the tools, methods and good practices required to maintain software development leadership in a climate of accelerating change;
- VistaMilk Centre: The objective of this centre is to generate and deploy innovative basic and applied science and technologies in the food-production chain;
- Confirm Centre for Smart Manufacturing: the objective of this centre is to transform industry to become leaders in Smart Manufacturing.
Concerning the current COVID-19 pandemic, in March 2020 the Irish Government launched a National action plan on COVID-19 with the aim to minimise the risk of illness for all people, to lower the impact on individuals at higher risk, and to reduce both social and economic disruption associated to the COVID-19 outbreak. As a key action in this plan, a coordinated Rapid Response Research and Innovation programme was launched to enable the research and innovation community to respond to the immediate and pressing needs of society arising from the pandemic. Several calls to apply for the funding in this programme have been developed by the Irish Research Council (IRC), the Health Research Board (HRB), the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), the Enterprise Ireland (EI), and the Irish Agency for Foreign Direct Investment (IDA). Two calls with funding lines are foreseen:
- A first call (phase 1), with typically funding up to EUR 200,000 per project, focuses on research in the following areas: medical countermeasures, health service readiness, and social and policy countermeasures to COVID-19. A total of 36 projects have been awarded in phase 1;
- A second call (phase 2) focuses on the following thematic areas: infection prevention and control, understanding the virus and host response, STEM-led solutions for stimulating and sustaining rapid economic recovery.
While the calls do not specifically target AI-related developments, several awarded projects do use artificial tools and algorithms in their innovative solutions to fight the COVID-19 virus. To maximise the relevance and the impact for society of ongoing research in the field of the COVID-19 outbreak, many research organisations have signed a joint statement to share research data and findings in this field.
Also Ireland’s national centre for Applied Data Analytics & AI (CeADAR) has offered its AI expertise to help companies, government agencies, medical centres and research charities develop AI tools to help track the virus and monitor compliance of the general public. The centre can help organisations with large data sets to apply machine learning techniques.
At the end of June 2020 the Irish Health Service Executive (HSE) published new documents about the ongoing commitment to develop the COVID-19 Tracker application for Ireland. This national effort was carried out within an unprecedented global collaboration between governments, industry and the scientific community in order to fully align the results with the privacy principles and public health guidance issued by the EU Commission, the OECD, WHO and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. In addition, the HSE organised a Digital Academy Forum in July 2020 for businesses and the research community to share their digital transformation experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Furthermore, the ultraviolet light robot Violet is the output of 12 months research in UV light disinfection technology conducted at Trinity College Dublin and fast-tracked by the HSE that recognised its great potential in fighting the COVID-19.
Finally on the business side of the COVID-19 crisis, the Border Enterprise Development Fund – an initiative of the Government of Ireland administered by Enterprise Ireland – supports the international competitiveness of enterprises in the Border Region in the context of Brexit and other market challenges including COVID-19. The applicants’ projects focus on AI, robotics, cobotics, machine learning, and big data.