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Multi-million pound AI centre to open in NI

Published on 28 March 2024

From left, Archie Clements, Queen’s University, Dónal Durkan, Invest NI, Professor Liam Maguire, Ulster University and Keith Forster, Department for the Economy

Economic development agency Invest NI and the Department for the Economy have announced a new £16.3m investment in an artificial intelligence centre.

The new Artificial Intelligence Collaboration Centre (AICC) will be based at Ulster University’s Belfast and Londonderry campuses in partnership with Queen’s University, Belfast.

Invest NI has said that the AICC will focus on increasing business awareness and adoption of AI technology to “boost competitiveness and productivity across all industries including logistics, finance, life-sciences, manufacturing and agri-tech”.

Economy Minister Conor Murphy said: “We are in the midst of an AI-driven revolution and through this investment we will harness the transformative power of AI, ensuring its potential is diffused and applied to a broad business base which will encourage economic growth and be of great benefit to our people and society.

“This collaborative project, with bases in Belfast and Derry, will serve as a hub for innovation, bringing together research expertise and industry professionals to collaborate on cutting-edge projects and solutions.

“The centre, the people who work there and the important work it will deliver will be an important contributor to my wider economic vision as we aim to raise productivity, promote regional balance, reduce carbon emissions and deliver good jobs."

With a presence at both universities, the new centre will also “encourage greater industrial innovation and collaboration with academia” to increase local and foreign direct investment (FDI).

Both universities will also provide additional training and professional qualifications in AI following an investment from the department.

Mr Murphy added: “As part of today’s announcement, the Department has offered almost £2.5m to support additional AI and data science postgraduate qualifications to be delivered by Ulster University and Queen’s University Belfast to expand the capacity of our talent pipeline to meet industry need.”

Dónal Durkan, executive director of strategy and partnerships at Invest NI, said: “Our support of £13.8m over the next five years is to increase business knowledge and adoption of AI technology.

"AI is one of the most important technological developments of the modern era and has the potential to deliver important benefits such as R&D excellence, skills development and increased competitiveness.

"With some 100 local companies already currently using AI technologies in their operations we have an excellent foundation to build upon our capabilities locally.

“As a region we are already recognised as an area of excellence in the realm of Big Data and data analytics. We now have the opportunity to make our mark in the AI arena and to realise the economic benefits that will come from adopting AI right across our business landscape to improve productivity, deliver good jobs, reduce costs and enhance sectoral competitive positioning.”

The new centre was launched on Thursday during an event at Ulster University’s Belfast campus and attendees heard from Brian Hills, chief executive of The Data Lab, on their journey to setting up a similar AI centre in Scotland.

There was also a panel discussion on the opportunities and challenges for AI adoption in Northern Ireland with contributions from Kainos, FinTrU, Analytics Engines, Whitespace and both universities.

Source: Belfast Telegraph (link opens in new window)