The challenges and opportunities of Artificial Intelligence

  • Sync NI sits down with Thomas Gray to discuss the challenges and opportunities of Artificial Intelligence

    AI Con, the leading conference on artificial intelligence, will return for a hybrid event on 3 December at Titanic Belfast. Ahead of its return we sit down with AI Con curator and Director of Innovation at Kainos, Thomas Gray.

    Tom is a 30-year tech veteran and is an active investor in local and national tech startups. He has been the driving force behind many of Kainos’ most innovative and successful customer and staff initiatives, including HealthHackEU, Kainos AppCamp, CodeCamp and Code4Derry.

    How did you get started in tech?

    I started programming on a ZX Spectrum and subsequently went on to study Computer Science at QUB after passing on Medicine at Trinity. 

    I joined Kainos during my Placement Year and never left.  I started as a Software Engineer then touched on many roles: from running Customer Support for an electrical network analysis product, to technical pre-sales, to Solution Architecture, to being the first Kainos CTO to whatever I am now.  Through this time, I have had the pleasure of delivering Kainos’ first Internet project, driving our first tablet-based product, setting up our Polish development centre, conceiving the Earn as you Learn scheme alongside various educational initiatives such as AppCamp.  Alongside this, I have had the opportunity to create and be the first Director of Digital Catapult NI, assist NI Government’s technology strategy as part of MATRIX and, of course, alongside Aisling Events, curate and run BelTech and AI Con and, most recently, EmTech Europe. 

    What positive impact does artificial intelligence have on society and business?

    We are still in the early days of the use of AI – if you compare AI with the Internet, we’re probably somewhere around 1999 and we’re just starting to see it seep into use in certain areas.  However, based on our current experience, AI can be used to allow decision-making to be faster and more consistent, reduce the time taken to perform certain tasks, enables the execution of previously complex tasks at an affordable cost, can augment the capabilities of differently abled people and can operate 24x7 without interruption or breaks.

    Why is AI Con so important for the tech community?

    AI Con, like BelTech, was conceived as a way to highlight and celebrate what’s happening in NI around the development and application of AI Technology, to allow the attendees to learn about new developments and successful application of AI from both local and international speakers, and as an opportunity for the broad Tech/AI ecosystem to get together and exchange experiences, meet people they wouldn’t otherwise meet and build their personal and organisational networks.

    AI Con is intended to be a useful contribution to the NI technology ecosystem – it focuses on the practical application of AI, and I hope that the attendees will learn something new that will be of value and, perhaps, meet someone new.

    How important is it for Northern Ireland to build a skills base to support the next generation of AI?

    I think that it is vital that NI builds a skills base to support the current generation of AI.  AI – certainly in specific areas like Healthcare, Finance and Retail/Marketing – is increasingly mature and NI companies need to take advantage of these technologies or risk falling behind their competition. 

    The UK National AI strategy outlines the ambition to remain an “AI Superpower” over the next 10 years.  The UK is currently 3rd behind US and China, based on the Tortoise AI Index, but this position is not to be taken for granted.  If the UK, generally, has that ambition, I’d suggest that NI should be similarly ambitious and decide that NI will build an AI skills base and implement AI effectively across both public and private sector at a level that is disproportionately large for the size of the population and the size of the economy.  NI should be globally recognised as a key contributor to the UK’s ambition to remain a global AI Superpower.

    For more information about AI Con visit

    About the author

    Aoife is a Sync NI writer with a previous background working in print, online and broadcast media. She has a keen interest in all things tech related. To connect with Aoife feel free to send her an email or connect on LinkedIn.

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