Q&A with EY’s Gareth Kelly


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  • As Partner in the Data & Analytics practice at EY Ireland, Gareth explains AI’s potential for many markets and how businesses will need to act to keep up with the ever-changing tech

    Q. Big Data Belfast has established itself as one of the most important and prestigious events in the NI tech calendar – what makes it so attractive to you?

    Big Data Belfast epitomises the very best of Northern Ireland showcasing leading technology, data and analytics companies. This event provides an ideal opportunity for delegates to gain valuable insights from an impressive lineup of international speakers and the best minds from across the globe. By having that perfect mix of tech, data and AI the event has proven to be incredibly successful as evidenced by growing consistently over the past 5+ years.

    Being part of this event is so important for us at EY and truly aligns with the EY principles of working locally, but thinking and leading globally. For me, being part of this event celebrates the great talent we have in NI, our entrepreneurial spirit and the opportunity our region has to be a global player in data, analytics and tech.  As we embark on our journey towards 1000 new jobs in NI, Big Data Belfast 2023 is a key milestone reminding us of the opportunity we have and the people that make living and working in NI so brilliant.

    Q. Data Analytics has been a central function of businesses for decades – what are the most impactful features of AI in the current landscape?

    I think the market is reacting in 2 ways to AI: some with excitement around the possibilities and others with a degree of trepidation.  From our recent CIO survey (1200 CEOs in July 2023) 65% of CEOs recognise the potential for AI to drive productivity and positive outcomes for all stakeholders while, equally, 65% felt that there is more work required to address the social, ethical and criminal risks.

    I actually lean towards the less doomsday view and remain very much excited by what AI is going to do – I think AI will greatly improve our working world and generative AI has the potential to be completely transformational. Generative AI is helping us to process and consume huge amounts of data, getting to insights faster, leading to better decisions and improved business outcomes. The ability to query, interrogate and ask questions of huge amounts of data and information at scale with an AI interface is incredible. The access to information and the speed at which we can curate that information is truly a revolution

    Q. What are the current legal and compliance implications associated with generative AI?

    The AI act is coming down the line and the EU aims to create a gold standard for the regulation of AI. This includes codes of conduct to encourage providers of AI systems to put in place appropriate controls and safeguards for enhanced transparency around areas such as deep fakes, foundation models and high-risk AI systems. High-risk AI systems may exist in the likes of medical devices, machinery, cars and even toys!

    We can see this resulting in requirements for enhanced risk management processes, better data governance, technical documentation, robust cyber security, and ethical considerations. Whilst the risk is huge I also see AI forcing us to be better, to create and manage data more effectively, to ensure our infrastructure is well-architected and secure.

     It is also critical to think ethically and responsibly around how we deploy AI in the right way. We all have seen recommendation engines in action with the likes of Amazon leading the way. A new focus on hyper-personalisation means that companies can influence people based on the data they create, leveraging personal information to encouraging them to buy their products and services. This creates a great deal of vulnerability …..almost like insider trading. This needs to be safeguarded against and we need to be cognizant of other criminal and ethical implications. Companies have a lot to do and they need to start now!

    Q. As AI expands rapidly can governments and regulators keep up?

    I think they are certainly going to need help, particularly as there are very few experts and a lot of demand in this area. Governments and regulators will need to consult widely and engage with the tech giants, and industry leaders to help them understand and legislate accordingly. We are already seeing governments create senior AI consultation roles to help design and write legislation. Companies need to respond and create processes and governance to react to the market and the incredible pace of change. We need to have conversations around how we attract new talent into the sector to create not only the legislation but the ecosystem of experts to allow this industry to move fast but also move responsibly.

    The legal profession is going to be transformed by this as smart contracts and e-discovery of documents are going to increasingly come into play. Ultimately bringing in controls with the right experts, employing the right people and seeking the right help, both from a legal and governance perspective is incredibly important.

    Q. Has AI been overhyped or are we on the cusp of a technological revolution?

    I think it's a possibility of both. Everybody wants to harness the benefits of AI and this has generated a huge amount of demand that, in itself, might almost be creating an over-expectation of what is possible to deliver within short timescales. That being said, in the next three to five years it is absolutely going to transform the world of work. I am in no doubt that a revolution is underway.

     I’m dealing with a lot of clients who currently want AI but they do not know where to start. Companies don't often appreciate the amount of work that’s required to set up the infrastructure, to choose the right tools and to make good quality data flow to train a model or to leverage a chat GPT like interface. Data is the new AI fuel and it needs to be managed, curated and crafted to ensure a trusted outcome.  What we are seeing now is that analytics and insights are gradually converging with infrastructure to support AI. There is obviously some hype and still a lot of work to do to make AI happen, however in three to five years, AI will be so embedded in our lives there will be no turning back. Will AI take your job? Maybe not but someone who understand how to use AI just might!

    Q. What industry or sector do you consider will benefit most from AI to create the greatest societal gains?

    I think there's a huge opportunity in government. If you think about how we interact with government and procure services, AI and generative AI in particular, have the potential to produce much greater efficiencies and subsequently deliver improved services. How governments and local councils deliver services can be improved with intelligent AI-powered applications. This can create an enhanced citizen experience and better social outcomes.

    Health is another obvious beneficiary of AI in terms of automated diagnostics, better services, customer support and ensuring the patient journey and care pathways are fully optimised to deliver better healthcare and patient outcomes.

    While government and health will clearly deliver significantly in terms of societal benefits, other areas such as ESG and sustainability will be impacted by AI. As data, machine learning, and AI continue to gain prominence, experts are raising concerns about the environmental costs of computation — primarily data and AI’s carbon footprint and greenhouse gas emissions. Cloud has a larger carbon footprint than the entire airline industry! I think the tech industry will have to move to green data centers faster and look at sustainable energy sources to power the AI revolution. This move will eventually benefit us all and force an increased pace towards a greener future!

    This article appears in the Big Data edition of Sync NI magazine. To receive a free copy click here.

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