The rise of Data and AI at Kainos

  • Ruth McGuiness, Head of Data and Artificial Intelligence at Kainos, explains how the sector has taken over the world and what should be considered when adopting AI in your business.

    Q. In your opinion what has been the most impactful developments in the Data & AI sector over the last 12 months?

    Over the last 12 months, we've seen AI evolve from probably quite a niche, technical specialism into something much more significant in terms of societal and cultural impact, and this has transcended the public consciousness in a way few could have predicted. We’ve gone from being a niche team of specialists to being part of a much broader, global conversation around the application of technology, its potential societal impact, its ethical implications and whether we need to regulate it. AI has completely transformed people's view on the future of work and everyone in every career is thinking, "How do I use artificial intelligence to work more efficiently and to get there quicker?"

    Q. Kainos is scaling for growth. How much do you expect this sector to grow and what impact will the investments in the advancement and scaling of Generative Artificial Intelligence (AI) have on the business?

    Over the last number of years, there has been a massive undertaking within the company to scale AI skills across the entire organisation to ensure all our workforce is underpinned with a degree of that capability. We have had to think about how our software engineers use AI, how software testers test AI services and how service designers design a government service that's fundamentally underpinned by artificial intelligence.

    The introduction of generative AI has been an accelerant and is going to be the real game changer in the industry, making AI accessible to more people than ever before. Some of those advancements in generative AI (such as GitHub Copilot) could be transformative to the software industry, automating elements of the software engineering process to free up engineers and allowing them to do more interesting and challenging work. For Kainos, the latest £10m investment in generative AI is off the back of 10 years of investment, and the next iteration for us is how we leverage technology to work smarter and to work differently.

    Q. Kainos is also increasing investment into the funding of academic research institutions such as the AI Research Centre (AIRC) at Ulster University. How important is it to retain and develop relationships between Kainos and Universities in Northern Ireland?

    A big focus of the investment in AIRC with Ulster University is around furthering our understanding of how to implement artificial intelligence responsibly, and further research centres will be established throughout this calendar year.

    I recently spoke at the Northern Ireland Investment Summit alongside Máire O'Neill, who heads up ECIT and Queen's University's cybersecurity unit, and we recognised that what actually makes Northern Ireland unique is the incredible bond between industry and academic research. If we are going to solve big societal problems and solve the problems our industries face, I don’t think we can solve those problems alone. We absolutely need the support to leverage the brilliant minds within our academic institutions. The relationships we have with our universities are also really important to help shape the future skills that we need for the entire technology industry in Northern Ireland.

    Q. What is Kainos' approach to ethical and responsible AI?

    Kainos has been growing its data ethics capability for several years, and being a leading partner for AI services to UK Government comes with great responsibility. We must build services that have a positive impact on the citizens that use them; ensuring we use emerging technology in a responsible and ethical way.

    For every project we undertake, we follow a data ethics framework to check each key stage of the project – making sure the use case is responsible and free from potential ethical concerns. This includes potential biases that can come into the process for an existing use case or if it is repurposed for some other reason in the future, we can mitigate potential concerns.

    Kainos also has regular engagement with industry partners like Responsible AI UK, Microsoft and AWS on leading approaches to ethical AI. Making sure that we're constantly bringing that into how we work and how we deliver for our customers to ensure we are building technology for a fairer and more responsible world.

    Q. As one of the only people in the UK and Ireland to join and Microsoft's global partner Advisory Council for data, can you tell us what this involves?

    The council meet twice a year in Microsoft’s Redmond headquarters in the US, providing Kainos with a very privileged position to get the latest view of the AI product roadmap and take part in discussions around future functionality and features. It's an advanced introduction to what's coming to the market, not just for Microsoft UK, but Microsoft globally – which is really exciting to be part of (particularly when you consider their position at the forefront of generative AI alongside open AI globally).

    This also provides Kainos with the opportunity to give feedback in terms of how we feel about these features and what we think the impact will be, while at the same time preparing our teams internally to respond to the technology once it's made available for us.

    Q. Looking ahead, what will be the key drivers for growth in AI?

    There are obvious considerations around responsibility, and global governments are moving fast to regulate AI. As a result, AI is becoming not just a technology discipline, but an industry in itself - so we will see growth in areas of AI regulation and legal services. Deploying artificial intelligence in a responsible and ethical way to avoid harm and bias is going to be an industry in its own right so obviously, there's going to be huge growth in that space.

    We will see growth in the adoption of tools like ChatGPT and CoPilots, and AI productivity tools that are readily available off the shelf and don't require investment. I see a fundamental shift in skills; not just technology skills, but all skills as all industries will be impacted in every way.

    There's a global arms race between Microsoft, Amazon, Meta and Google around advancing the capabilities of these technologies - and that's creating a bit of a monopoly. I think you'll see a shift from organisations building their own AI technology to the adoption of these kinds of global hyper scaler tools.

    Q. As the business grows and your teams expand, what skills will you seek to attract to your practice?

    12 months ago, I would have said a background in statistics, mathematics and computer science (or a well-rounded technical background at least). But going forward, as AI becomes more of a moral and ethical discussion, we will require more diverse skills. Not just diversity of who you are - but also in how you think. Be that from a philosophy or arts background, we are looking to reskill those individuals to be a technical and ethical hybrid. Ultimately, we are looking for people with a passion for artificial intelligence and a passion for solving big global problems.

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

Share this story