Creating a ‘treasure trove’ of trusted data for AI developers in Ireland

Bibhas Bhattacharya

Bibhas Bhattacharya

Former Intelligent Cloud Business Group Lead

Read Time, 3 min.

Every day, developers and researchers across Ireland are finding creative ways to leverage AI to solve tough societal challenges and unlock business innovation.

Whether they’re training a computer vision model to identify washed up waste  on our beaches or developing a machine learning algorithm to process business expenses through scanned pictures of receipts, they need access to data and quality images to ensure their success.

That’s why we’re excited to be launching Trove in Ireland. As Microsoft’s responsible data-sharing platform for developers, Trove allows researchers to publicise Artificial Intelligence (AI) projects they are working on and ask people to contribute photos to help improve their machine learning algorithms.

Although not many know it, AI innovators rely on a large number of high-quality photos to train computer vision models. These models are used in a range of AI-powered tools and services – from self-driving cars to cameras that enable people living with a vision impairment or blindness to understand what’s around them.

However, these images are often crowd-sourced by people who have little to no insight into what the project is about and the exact types of images that are needed. This can have a serious impact whether AI projects developed and delivered here in Ireland are successful or not.

Trove solves this by enabling developers to ask members of the public for the exact type of imagery they need for their project. Everyone who has an image approved by a developer in Trove is paid for that photo. They can also read a clear and easy-to-understand description of the purpose of the project, directly communicate with developers to ask questions and decide how their photos are used.

Privacy, security and transparency have shaped the creation of our new online marketplace. We delete any information from uploaded photos that could potentially identify any individual while only the developer and their team who created the project are able to access the images on Trove.

These safeguards demonstrate our commitment to the advancement of AI driven by ethical principles that put people first. This approach guides what we do as a company and how we help empower people and organisations to achieve more through technology.

Since its development a year ago, Trove has been empowering developers, organisations and society at large to harness and reap the benefits of AI. One such example is the Dutch social enterprise, TechTics.

Its team had sought to create the first AI-enabled beach-cleaning robot that could spot cigarette butts and dispose of them safely. Every year, 4.5 trillion cigarette butts end up in the environment. But to programme the robot to recognise litter on the ground, TechTics developers needed thousands of images of cigarette butts pictured along the shoreline. In purchasing 2,000 photos responsibly via Trove, TechTics team of developers have been able to successfully deploy the beach-cleaning bot and reduce litter along the coast.

At Microsoft Ireland, we want to build trusted connections between the people who are dependent on data and those who have it. For we know that the public will only provide their data to AI developers when they know that it is handled carefully, thoughtfully and responsibly.

By making Trove available to Irish developers and researchers, we can take one small but important step in harnessing the power of AI to build a strong innovation ecosystem that can support our efforts to achieve an inclusive recovery.

Developers in Ireland who want to use Trove must complete an onboarding process that asks them about the data that will be collected, how it will be used, examples of data they are looking for, how many photos they want to collect and how much will they pay data providers. They are also given a guide on the rules around collecting data from the public.

Developers can get started with Trove by creating a data collection project here. The app is available for free on Android and iOS.

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