Universities unite to harness the power of AI

£16.3m investment in new Artificial Intelligence Collaboration Centre based in Belfast and Derry

Artificial intelligence
Pictured announcing the creation of the new AICC are (from left) Archie Clements, Pro-Vice Chancellor of Research and Enterprise at Queen’s University Belfast; Dónal Durkan, executive director of strategy and partnerships at Invest NI; Professor Liam Maguire, Pro-Vice Chancellor of Research at Ulster University; and Keith Forster, director of innovation, research and enterprise at the Department for the Economy

The north’s two main universities are to collaborate in a multi-million pound project to harness the transformative power of artificial intelligence for the benefit of business.

A new state of the art Artificial Intelligence Collaboration Centre (AICC) will be based at Ulster University’s Belfast and Derry campuses in partnership with Queen’s University Belfast.

Part of a £16.3 million investment by Invest NI and the Department for the Economy, the centre 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.

The AICC will have 25 dedicated staff who will use their existing knowledge and expertise to inform, educate and empower businesses to adopt AI, as well as stimulating new research and innovation.

Some 390 funded Postgraduate AI qualifications and also classroom-based or online skills training will be delivered to thousands of workers across Northern Ireland over the next five years.

Speaking at a launch event in Belfast, economy minister Conor Murphy said: “We are in the midst of an AI driven revolution and through this investment we will ensure its potential is diffused and applied to a broad business base which will encourage economic growth and be of huge 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.”

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.”

He added: “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.”

Artificial intelligence
Brian Hills, chief executive of The Data Lab, which set up an AI centre in Scotland a decade ago which has since injected £200m into the economy and helped generate 1,350 jobs

The AICC was formally launched at an event on Ulster University’s Belfast campus today, where attendees heard reflections from Brian Hills, chief executive of The Data Lab, on its journey to setting up a similar AI centre in Scotland a decade ago.

In that time the centre has injected £200m in additional revenue into Scotland’s burgeoning data and AI sector and has played a central role in generating and securing more than 1,350 jobs.