Saturday February 22, 2020

The future is bright for AI in Ireland

13th February, 2020

What's your name?

Kieran Towey

What’s your current job?

I am the Head of Applied Intelligence, our end-to-end capability for all things Data, Analytics and Artificial Intelligence, at KPMG Ireland.

How long have you held the position?

I started in KPMG last year, but I have over 20 years’ experience in Analytics Consulting for global firms, long before it was even called Analytics.

Can you describe your daily work routine?

My day starts by listening to podcasts on new and interesting topics in AI from some of the global leaders and thinkers in the field during my commute into work. Then at my desk I catch up on what’s happened overnight that I need to be aware of and then I’m ready to face into a client focussed day. I have daily check-ups with my team to catch up on developments, set direction or course correct as appropriate. Then the day begins with workshops with clients, conferences, oversight of delivery projects, meeting with my Innovation Ecosystem, academics and new technology firms. Then home to my family, go for a run and wind down.

What is your professional background?

I have an academic background in mathematics and statistics and have had four major roles in my life, all of them helping to establish and grow an outcome focussed, data and analytics capability. I started my career working to eradicate large animal diseases in Ireland, at a time when Mad Cow disease and Foot and Mouth disease emerged as threats to our agriculture industry.

I then moved to SPSS to build what was then called a data mining and predictive analytics practice, using the new technologies coming online at the time, which included neural nets and text mining. SPSS was bought out by IBM and now serves as one of their core analytics capabilities. I then moved to Aon’s Centre for Innovation and Analytics, as head of function, to first understand and then monetize their wealth of data.

In 2011, I moved to a global consulting firm to build their analytics innovation and delivery capability, becoming their Global Fraud, Financial Crime and Risk lead, with data science teams spread around the world. In a constantly changing data and technology environment, I find my basic role hasn’t changed, figure out how to harness the now bewildering array of data and use technology to find new ways to solve business problems. The tools and approaches may have changed, there is a huge increase in Artificial Intelligence capability, cloud is ubiquitous but helping client navigate and innovate stays the same.

Tell me about yourself away from work?

Outside of work I have a “gentleman’s family”, a wife, a son and a daughter, who keep busy with activities from dancing to football; but one thing we have in common is we like to run. I’m hoping to get my 10th marathon completed in Rome this year. I try and run 6 days a week and hit 70K+ when I can. I find its not only great for physical health but also really relaxing, at least the way I do it.

Tell us something very few people know about you?

I’m also a historical war gamer and no that’s not playing with little miniature figures.…its playing with little cardboard figures. So, for example, a group of players could play as the major powers of the Napoleonic times, France, Austria Hungary, Great Britain, Russia etc and you attempt to win the game by achieving more than historical. The games are closer to chess in nature, in that they rely heavily on strategy and tactics, so it engages the brain in a different way.

You are speaking at the forthcoming AI Summit in Croke Park. What is the focus of your talk?

I want to focus on taking stock of where we find ourselves at this point in time in terms of AI capability development. If I use an analogy of a rocket ship or racing car, it feels like we are building the engine and using high octane fuel, but don’t have real clarity on a destination, nor are we building a steering wheel. You can imagine the likely wreck you could end up with, in those circumstances. We need to think about what we want from AI, what the controls are we should consider and how can we build capability at scale.

How do you think AI will shape the future of Ireland’s industry over the coming 5 years?

Well, it’s interesting. Over the last 10 years I have had the opportunity to travel the world, seeing the great things being done in AI across the US, Europe and Asia and Ireland is right up there with the best. If you look at the Irish ecosystem of recently established and emerging companies, developing technologies with data, machine learning and AI at the core, I think the future is bright, but from an industry perspective, hugely disruptive. The old ways won’t be enough, you just won’t remain competitive and in a global environment, your competitor is not the company down the road, it’s the one halfway across the world. I do think that many in industry, being so busy with their day jobs, have had little time to truly understand the scale and type of change that is not just coming, its already here.

If you look at research done by MIT and Oxford who asked leading global researchers where they thought AI was going to take us, they estimated that there is a 50% chance that all tasks would be carried out by AI within 45 years, but right on the horizon, if you were to ask me what capability might revolutionise industry in the next 5 years, I’d say it’s the proper harnessing of AI’s NLP capabilities. We should be able to talk to the machine, ask it questions and it return an answer, like the Star Trek computer, the vision for a harmonic human machine interface.

Kieran will be speaking at the AI Summit on March 5th in Croke Park, Dublin.

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