Thursday 23 January 2020

Ireland 'rising star' of AI world: Autonomy founder

Tuesday Insight

Call for action: Autonomy founder Mike Lynch wants Ireland to boost its AI credentials further
Call for action: Autonomy founder Mike Lynch wants Ireland to boost its AI credentials further

John Reynolds

Embattled founder of UK technology firm Autonomy Mike Lynch feels Ireland is a rising star in artificial intelligence (AI) technology.

He has called on the Government here to promote the country's strengths in what is a rapidly growing sector of the tech industry.

Lynch's venture capital firm, Invoke Capital, has been a significant investor in AI-centric tech companies, such as cybersecurity group Darktrace, legal platform Luminance, health and medical analytics firm Sophia Genetics, and the deep learning engine Neurence.

The first-generation Irishman, whose mother was from Carrick-on-Suir, Co Tipperary, and who was previously talked about as being Britain's answer to Bill Gates, points to how Ireland punched above its weight in a recent report, 'The Global AI Index', published by Tortoise Media.

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The report had an advisory board of 24 leading academics and industry specialists in AI, including a Skype co-founder and Ocado's CTO.

It benchmarks 54 nations on their level of investment, innovation and implementation of AI.

It ranked Ireland 10th overall, just behind Japan (ninth), but ahead of Israel (12th), which is often described as having a more successful tech sector and, like us, has a very entrepreneurial diaspora.

We ranked sixth, ahead of the UK (11th), in development of AI. We were also ahead (second) of the UK (eighth) in infrastructure.

When it comes to talent, we rank sixth, just behind the UK. However, we lag behind in the areas of government strategy, ranking 42nd, and operating environment and research fundamentals, ranking 28th in each. The report noted: "Smaller countries - including Ireland - have developed vibrant AI economies, thanks to flexible visa requirements and positive government intervention.

"[They] lack the scale of larger nations, but often outperform the power players and traditional champions in the intensity of their AI development - whether that's through large average investments, or consistently producing valuable research."

Lynch says: "Ireland is punching above its weight in AI. The Government should get the message out about what's being achieved, and they need to wake up, get their strategy together, and grab this opportunity.

"Irish universities and the likes of Waterford IT are turning out great graduates, perhaps with relatively few resources.

"Brexit may help to attract talent there rather than the UK in future.

"Younger people tend to be happier being part of the EU, and they want to be around others working in these kinds of areas. Ireland is a welcoming place to very bright young people who want to start companies."

Lynch recalls how Irishman the late Prof Bill Fitzgerald, of Cambridge University, who was a friend of his, influenced the birth of a number of AI startups. His pioneering complex mathematical ideas about statistics and the automated understanding of data led to the founding of both Autonomy and Darktrace.

The latter is valued at $1.65bn (€1.49bn), and Invoke Capital, in which Lynch is believed to have a significant shareholding, may own as much as 42pc of Darktrace, reports have suggested.

Prof Fitzgerald's page on Cambridge's website states: "His ground-breaking work on Bayesian statistical methodology as applied to signal and data modelling had a profound impact on the study of signal processing here and internationally. He was also a renowned expert in image restoration and medical imaging, extreme value statistics, bio-informatics, data mining and data classification.

"Many of Bill's students have gone on to establish world-class academic, industrial and financial organisations around the world."

Lynch, meanwhile, is currently embroiled in a civil legal trial in London, and faces criminal charges in the US, which has formally requested his extradition. Successor companies to tech giant HP allege the entrepreneur fraudulently inflated the value of Autonomy before its £8.4bn (€9.8bn) acquisition by HP.

Lynch has countered that HP experienced "buyer's remorse" about its decision to buy Autonomy.

Lynch denies all of the criminal and civil allegations. He declined to comment on the case when speaking exclusively to the Irish Independent. He says he has not made a decision on contesting the extradition request, as he has not seen the actual charges.

The civil trial should conclude next month, though a judgment may not be reached until the spring.

The Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation here sought submissions on a national AI strategy in October, missing a previous deadline for having drawn one up.

Last month, a study by LinkedIn found Ireland had the highest ratio of AI talent per capita in the EU.

Irish Independent

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