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Artificial Intelligence (AI) is no longer a technology of the future. In transforming how we live our daily lives – from receiving medical treatment and consuming news, to how we approach learning – AI is more powerful, prevalent and impactful than ever before.

That was one of the key takeaways from the second annual John McCarthy AI Summer School supported by Microsoft Ireland, which took place over two days this week.

In bringing together the brightest minds from our research and start-up communities, we can position Ireland as an AI leader globally and ensure the benefits of this technology can help forge a more inclusive future.

Potential of AI

With AI having the potential to boost our economy by €48bn by 2030, Ireland has a unique opportunity to unlock its true potential, so we can empower every person and organisation to achieve more.

But to achieve this goal, we need to make sure that Ireland’s skills base keeps pace with the increased adoption of AI in our daily lives.

Like other major technological advancements we’ve seen through the decades, AI will require new ways of thinking about skills and training to ensure the next generation are prepared to contribute to and participate fully in this digital world.

This requires leaders across our economy and society to think seriously about how we foster the skills needed to work alongside AI and the cutting-edge innovations it is helping to create.

Government has recognised the transformational impact of AI and through Ireland’s first national strategy – ‘AI: Here for Good’ – has set out a pathway for Ireland to become an international leader in using AI and the steps that need to be taken to prepare Ireland’s future workforce for the changes that lie ahead.

Importance of Collaboration

However, Government cannot achieve these goals alone. Nurturing the skills, confidence and trust needed for greater use of AI will require increased collaboration between Government, industry and academia.

Microsoft in particular recognises that we have a responsibility to work with policymakers, researchers and other member of Ireland’s vibrant technology sector to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to benefit from breakthroughs in AI.

And that work must start with a focus on the next generation. Children today are growing up in a digital world surrounded by AI and they should know how it works.

Rather than giving our young people the first glimpse into AI at post-primary level, consideration should be given to introducing AI to those aged six and above. Research has shown that doing so can help stimulate key problem-solving and critical thinking skills that can help them to engage confidently with AI in the years to come.

Unlocking AI Skills

At Microsoft, we are providing AI skills education and training as part of our broader Pathways for Life programme.

For example, we’ve begun to introduce the principles of AI as part of our Dream Space digital skills experience so that young people see the power of digital technology and STEM in exciting new ways. Teachers also have an important role to play and through our Dream Space teacher programme we’re empowering our educators to introduce AI within the classroom.

Fostering new alternative pathways into AI and other new digital technologies will also be critical. For those finishing school and looking to use AI within the modern workplace, we’ve teamed up with CCT College Dublin to create the Certificate in Digital Transversal Skills and Diploma in Data Analytics. These courses help the current generation to think differently and apply AI in their daily work.

As highlighted by Ireland’s National AI strategy, a focus on nurturing AI skills amongst the current and future generations must also be accompanied by greater efforts to foster a strong AI innovation ecosystem. An ecosystem that can fuel an inclusive recovery through digital technology.

Our team at Microsoft are proud to work with Trinity College Dublin to support PhD students working on cutting-edge quantum research that can provide a computation boost to AI, enabling it to tackle more complex problems than would otherwise not be possible using classic computers.

Microsoft is also investing in a cross-company skilling initiative with LinkedIn and GitHub, which is designed to help millions of people acquire the digital skills needed amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. In addition, Microsoft Learn offers courses and learning tools for customers who want to advance their understanding of AI and machine learning.

Looking to the Future

With over 40 of the world’s leading innovators in AI located here, Ireland has a strong foundation on which to build and become an AI leader internationally. From the healthcare and med-tech sectors to the manufacturing and agri-food sectors, Ireland’s capacity to compete globally will become increasingly dependent on having the right skillset to develop, adopt and use AI for the benefit of all.

The AI Summer School, which took place this week, has helped to place an important spotlight on how we develop those in-demand skills and the strong innovation ecosystem to harness the full potential of AI.

With a true partnership between Government, industry and the research community, AI can have a powerful and positive impact on everyone in society and in the business community at large. This will ensure that Ireland not only continues to be an EU leader in AI adoption, but that it harnesses the transformation of this digital technology to build an inclusive future.

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