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SFI Digital Ireland Workshop

Brendan Jennings_speaking

On Monday of last week I gave a talk as part of SFI’s Digital Ireland Workshop in the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin. I stayed in Dublin the night before (and got locked inside an underground car park for about 45 minutes…) as my talk was in the first session. Since I arrived early Ciara and Helen from SFI kindly arranged for me to take part in the photoshoot with Minister Perry, who officially opened the event and, in doing so, highlighted the Irish government’s continued support for investment in science and innovation.

My session, entitled Social Media, Web and Mobile Applications was chaired by Mark Little, CEO of storyful.com. Mark gave a very good introduction highlighting the impact of social media on the traditional business models of media and journalism. I gave an overview presentation of TSSG, focussing on a selection of our ongoing projects (download the slides here). My talk was pitched somewhat differently to the other speakers, Michael Hausenblas and Vit Novacek, both from DERI, and David Kavanagh from scrazzl.com, all of whom spoke about linked data / semantics / search.

Once my talk was done I was able to focus on the remainder of the talks, which were from Principal Investigators of the main SFI-funded centres in the ICT domain, from PhD students / post-docs working in these centres, or from folks involved in start-up companies working in the same areas. Full details of the agenda and links to slides can be found here. Talks that stood out most for me were Barry Smyth’s introduction to the state-of-the-art on recommender systems and Pádraig Cunnigham’s similar introduction to the Clique cluster’s work on social network analysis. Also striking was Anil Kokaram’s presentation on his group’s work on video post-processing techniques and tools, which led not only to him being awarded an Oscar, but also to Google’s recent acquisition of Green Parrot Pictures, a start-up company that originated in the group.

However, the session that interested me most was the session on Data Analytics, Mining and Visualisation. Obviously analytics and big data are the hot areas in computing at the moment, so it was great to see that so much high quality work is being done in Ireland in these areas. Barry O’Sullivan, Director of 4C, did an excellent job of introducing the link between optimisation and analytics, providing some very interesting examples of how techniques from both areas can be applied. In particular, he discussed his group’s recent work on scheduling of procedures within Irish hospitals, which showed that significant reductions in patient waiting times could be achieved if optimisation techniques were applied. Having said that, he did acknowledge that there are considerable and understandable barriers to adopting such solutions in the system. Nevertheless this led to a very interesting discussion about how the public service in general could benefit from working with scientists to help them identify efficiencies that could have a major impact on cost reduction.

The last session of the day included an introduction to the Irish International Content Services Centre by Neil Leyden, one of the two winners of the Your Country Your Call competition. The ICSC will seek to replicate the success of the International Financial Services Centre, by bring together multi-national companies, indigenous start-ups, government agencies and research centres working in the broad digital content area. Whilst it is still early days this sounds like it could receive significant backing from the government, so it will be very interesting to see how it evolves.

Finally, I should mention that the final session included a relatively provocative comment from Google’s Eoghan Nolan, who suggested that Ireland is supporting too many research groups in the ICT area, not all of whom are world class and that the government should therefore seek to withdraw support from less well performing groups and/or seek to merge groups so that critical mass can be attained. Whilst this is contentious I think there is a lot to be said from moving a certain degree in this direction, although I would not like to see the situation where one or two groups were practically guaranteed to hoover up the lion’s share of the available funding.

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