There are a number of factors which have neatly converged on Ireland’s journey to becoming an AI Island and which point to strong future growth and development of its AI ecosystem. Local economic and education initiatives are complemented by the legal framework being developed by the EU Commission.
Existing AI island ecosystem
The time and effort of agencies such as ICTSkillsnet, IDA, EI and SFI, and many invested experts, have led to the creation of a burgeoning AI ecosystem. This in turn is beginning to churn out a number of successful Irish AI companies such as Nuritas, Soapbox Labs, Opening and LogoGrab. These efforts are supported by many corporations in Ireland who have established centres for data analytics, cloud computing, big data and future internet. Google, for example, launched a support hub for AI startups in Dublin last year.
The AI agenda is also being driven by a number of key individuals in Ireland and the EU. Prof Barry O’Sullivan of University College Cork is one such individual. He is President of the European Artificial Intelligence Association and a representative on the EU’s AI Expert Group which is spearheading the EU’s strategy regarding AI. The Group makes recommendations on future policy development and on ethical, legal and societal issues, including socio-economic challenges.
AI island legal framework
Irish AI specific legislation is likely to almost exclusively derive from future EU ethical and legal developments. AI products and services already on the market are regulated by legislation such as the GDPR, the Data Protection Act 2018, the Copyright and Related Rights Act 2000 and the European Union (Protection of Trade Secrets) Regulations 2018. However, there is a lot more to come from the EU. The EU wants to build an AI regulatory environment in its own image - one based on a set of fundamental values complemented by a strong and balanced regulatory framework. The ground work was completed in December last year when the AI High Level Expect Group delivered its draft Ethics Guidelines for Trustworthy AI. The guidelines focus on human centric and trustworthy AI that produces products that operate in a traceable and accountable manner and are based on a principle of ethics by design.
The EU is now moving to the next stage - a targeted piloting phase to ensure that the ethical guidelines for AI development and use can be implemented in practice. The EU’s view is that the ethical dimension of AI is not a luxury feature or an add-on but that:
"it needs to be an integral part of AI development. By striving towards human-centric AI based on trust, we safeguard the respect for our core societal values and carve out a distinctive trademark for Europe and its industry as a leader in cutting-edge AI that can be trusted throughout the world."
Critics will argue that this process is too slow and cumbersome and that it could lead to widening of the existing gap between the advances in the field of AI being made in the EU and in the US and China. In another light, one could reasonably argue that the long game being played by the EU is a canny approach which could see it trump its US and Chinese competitors in the long run, particularly in a world of consumers who are becoming very privacy savvy and are conscious of the downsides of owning and using products and apps that require being fed large amounts of data including personal data. In such a world, trust and not speed could be the ultimate driver of innovation.
Impact of Brexit and other factors
The instability brought about by Brexit casts Ireland in a very favourable light when it comes to our country’s burgeoning AI sector. Ireland’s status as the only other English speaking common law jurisdiction in the EU, and possibly the remaining one by the end of 2019, is of great benefit in the context of forging new business relationships. From a technology contracting perspective, our legal concepts are recognised and understood by most foreign investors, including US multi-nationals. The stability offered by Ireland being intrinsically tied into the future of the EU AI legal regime is another positive.
In addition to our 12.5% rate of corporation tax on trading profits which applies to companies that actively exploit IP through Ireland, the Irish tax regime also offers a knowledge development box regime. This regime provides a highly attractive tax rate of 6.25% for income generated from commercialising patents and copyrighted software. This is particularly helpful for AI entities seeking to qualify for relief.
Investment in Education
The investment in promoting AI in our third level institutions is a further boost. Ireland’s first masters degree in AI was recently launched in response to a growing demand by industry for related skills in Ireland. The programme runs in the University of Limerick and includes a fast-track introductory course developed in collaboration with the Irish Centre for High-End Computing. The design of the entire programme is led by ICT companies through Technology Ireland ICT Skillnet and the University of Limerick. Companies that have been involved in developing the programme to date include Accenture, Advanced Metadata, Analog, Arvato, Citibank, Ericsson, Fujitsu, GM, Google, IBM, Microsoft, and many more. The speed with which this course was designed and developed on foot of that industry demand is impressive and sends a strong signal to international partners that Ireland is willing to take specific action to support the AI sector.
Recent analysis shows that AI will boost Ireland’s GDP in 2030 by 11.6% to €48 billion. This presents a substantial commercial and economic opportunity for the country. The Irish AI ecosystem is strong and growing from a collaboration, research, education and economic perspective. So far all the signs are positive that we can live up to the projected growth rates and our growing reputation as the AI Island.
The content of this article is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other advice.