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Artificial intelligence: The future is already here, and businesses will have to play catch-up

New AI summit in Dublin hits the ground running as industry leaders proclaim an inflection point for society

“Data is the new oil,” said Barry Scannell, an AI law expert with William Fry, “and AI companies are going to be the new refineries.”

He was addressing an audience of tech industry professionals in Trinity College at AI Tribes, an artificial intelligence summit hosted by Dublin Tech Summit.

“What we’re doing now will have ripples for the future,” Scannell continued, and as he spoke on a panel shared with OpenAI and Logitech, attendees diligently took notes.

Ireland’s 300-odd indigenous AI companies, more than half of them based in and around Dublin, and their multinational competitors have seen an explosion in interest in AI over the past 18 months after products such as ChatGPT opened the world’s eyes to the potential of the technology.


Tech companies big and small are scrambling to develop the best software to get an edge over rivals, and chip manufacturing companies, such as Nvidia, have seen huge market gains as they struggle to keep up with demand for microchips capable of running AI.

“Generative AI will drive a paradigm shift in our interaction with technology,” Google’s Sebastian Haire told the Dublin summit, adding that the world was entering a fourth industrial revolution spearheaded by AI. He joked that even his presentation was out of date in the time between designing and delivering it.

If industry representatives are to be believed, virtually every company is either integrating some form of AI into its systems or is beginning an “exploratory phase” to assess how it can help their staff improve productivity. By 2025, worldwide spend on AI will reach $204 billion (€188 billion), according to Haire. That’s next year.

It is expected that trillions will be pumped into the technology in the years to come.

At the Trinity College conference, AI experts mingled, trying each other’s branded cupcakes at industry stands, exchanging niceties and whatnot. But below the surface there’s a race going on, and one on which nobody wants to fall behind.

For companies that miss the boat, “they’re probably going to miss out on some significant productivity gains”, said James Croke, business development officer at Version 1.

“To get the most from AI, companies need to get their data right first. They need to migrate to the cloud. It’s a challenge that they need to play catch-up on but when you look at the potential impact of AI for SMEs in particular, it could allow them to leapfrog rivals on productivity. This could be a once-in-a-generation chance for SMEs.”

Markham Nolan, a former journalist and co-founder of Noan, which helps companies utilise artificial intelligence, said AI was “a time machine for small businesses”.

“Our users save five to 10 hours a week by using AI,” he said. “If you get the prompts right, whatever AI creates will be 80-90 per cent to where it needs to be: you just have to do the polishing.

“The AI has learned [our clients’] brand. It has learned to speak for their brand. So rather than having to sit down and write an email from scratch, they just say, ‘I need this email to be about this, to this company’, and five seconds later they’ll have a fully fleshed-out email in their voice.

“So many businesses hit a hurdle, a point they can’t get over because they don’t have the revenue. AI is a bridging technology that allows people to add capacity without cost, and to grow to become the companies they have the potential to be,” Nolan said.

Speaking to those attending the conference, you get the sense that AI no longer rests its promise upon pie-in-the-sky transformations in the future, but offers deliverable ones in the short term. Still, there are some innovations that remain difficult to picture in Ireland any time soon.

Matthew Nicholson, a researcher at Trinity’s Adapt Centre, was showcasing Swedish company Furhat’s social robot. Looking a bit like a bust from Will Smith’s I, Robot, with an internal projection displaying various facial expressions, it might act like a robot concierge in a hotel room, Nicholson suggested, though for now it seems a little too bizarre to wake up to.

Other AI applications were more obvious in their benefits for humanity. Unicef’s AI lead, Dr Irina Mirkina, suggested that in the future AI will help predict cyclical natural disasters, disease outbreaks and how much aid is needed for emergencies at a pace far faster than any human can calculate.

Chris Hokamp, a scientist with Quantexa, sees a future in which there is likely to be “another species of AIs”.

AI should remain a tool for humans for as long as possible, he said, adding: “We don’t want to give it emotions.” There’s a curious casualness about sweeping predictions such as Hokamp’s. It’s an almost unsurprising prediction in these circles nowadays.

He told the conference that humans must ensure that when AI reaches a superhuman level of intelligence, it must act ethically and adhere to regulations. He takes comfort in the knowledge that bad actors are unlikely to unleash a malevolent superintelligence on the world that they themselves would be unable to control.

Regulation was a key theme of the summit and there was much talk of the EU’s proposed AI Act, which seeks for the first time to put in place a legal framework within which AI can operate in the bloc.

Onur Korucu, managing partner at GovernID, a privacy firm, said AI must be regulated in the EU – not to stifle innovation but “to put a frame around the innovation” and “democratise” the use of AI.

Mark Kelly, the founder of AI Ireland, argued that a framework from which to develop AI would encourage companies to green-light new AI projects. His advice for Irish AI start-ups was not to “go competing with the likes of OpenAI with video tools ... but if [a smaller Irish company] can go down and solve a niche industry-specific issue [you will succeed].”

He spoke of one company that documented 20,000 client questions over the last 20 years, and created a language model around it to save time in answering queries. It led to a 25 per cent increase in clients within one year.

Skillnet Ireland’s Tracey Donnery said the number of women in AI is small but is increasing, and she appeared optimistic about AI’s ability to augment and change jobs rather than solely replacing them. “Hopefully it won’t be as dramatic as described by the naysayers,” she said.

There is, of course, also a dark side to AI. Dan Purcell, founder of Ceartas, an AI-powered company that takes down deepfakes from the internet, told the conference that “sextortion” is a growing issue, with young men increasingly accessing technology that uses AI to “de-clothe” women, an activity that also creates a larger data set for the software to improve its function.

On deepfakes, UCD’s Dr Brendan Spillane believes the technology poses a “serious risk to society” including “the integrity of elections”. He said states are using deepfakes to sow social distrust and unrest and that it was becoming more common for states to outsource the service to private companies.

On the same subject, Rigr AI founder Edward Dixon helps law enforcement agencies around the world, including An Garda Síochána, to find the likely location of sensitive media. When police receive media depicting crimes against children, for example, they might receive hundreds of thousands of files.

“Crimes like terrorism are noisy, public and generally have a lot of bystander imagery and accounts,” he told The Irish Times. “The kind of crimes we focus on happen quietly.”

The company’s tools suggest plausible locations based on the photo or video’s environment, languages spoken, named mentioned – ultimately saving hundreds of hours for investigators and potential psychological damage from examining sensitive media.

It is just one more example of how the long-predicted AI revolution now appears to be here. Whether you are worried, enthused or just baffled, it is hard not to feel as though the AI tide is coming in relentlessly.