Prof Noel O'Connor

Insight Excellence – Ten years of Insight: Ten years of breakthrough in research excellence

Submitted on Monday, 01/05/2023

When Insight was born in 2013, as part of Science Foundations Ireland’s Research Centres programme, the objective was to bring together the diverse expertise in data and AI that was developing independently at universities and research institutions across Ireland. Its architects hoped that collaborations could be fostered between the various nodes of research if all were plugged into a central entity, setting a series of shared AI challenges. The brief was broad; any discipline with the potential to contribute to or benefit from a data/AI dimension could find a home at the new national data research body. The goal was clear; seek out and tackle scientific, societal and economic challenges that AI and data research has the potential to solve.

Ten years on and Insight is the gravitational centre of an array of ground-breaking research fields in AI; drawing in disciplines ranging from physiotherapy to historical analysis to public health to robotics. Insight membership has grown to over 450, with members drawn from seven universities and research institutions, as well as collaborating researchers from Technological Universities.

Insight’s research agenda is very ambitious. From the start we set ourselves the task of competing at the highest international level of research excellence. A series of research challenges propel us and now, at ten years old, we can point to eight key areas where Insight is driving excellence in Irish research, treading new ground in interdisciplinary enquiry and delivering breakthroughs in global scholarship.

We have made a significant and novel contribution to public health and in the process we are accelerating the digitisation of our health services. Insight was central to the national Covid response with significant presence on the Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group (IEMAG), reporting to the Irish National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET). After the immediate urgency of the pandemic, Insight Principal Investigators and Funded Investigators have translated their work into further research outputs and scientific publications in field of pandemic preparedness and other data driven health measures. This cross-centre programme of work has helped Insight to become a trusted source of expert advice for the HSE and a number of government departments.

Our work in cultural analytics is changing the face of historical research. Cultural analytics is a cross-centre research initiative that brings together data analytics and machine learning experts with researchers drawn from across the humanities and social sciences. We are mobilising a national interdisciplinary network of researchers that can address important cultural analytics research questions in a way that would be impossible otherwise. Insight tech is now being used by the archivists of the British Library Digital Collection and we have initiated a portfolio of projects that show the benefits of bringing state-of-the-art machine learning and AI to both historical and contemporary cultural archives.

Increasingly complex organisations need to make decisions using the data they generate. This is challenging. Data comes from diverse sources in divergent formats. The holy grail of intelligent data analysis is consolidating all these data sets into a coherent whole. Enterprise Knowledge Graphs do this job. Insight has broken new ground in extracting Enterprise Knowledge Graphs from large and diverse data sets. Over the past five years, in partnership with Fidelity Investments, we have innovated in the area of customer facing recommender systems resulting in a US patent on building a knowledge base taxonomy.

Explainable AI (XAI) for transparent and trustworthy decision making is widely recognised as critical for the future acceptance of AI. Insight is an international leader in this field, mixing foundational computer science with interdisciplinary work in cognitive science, in applications and in informing national and international policy.

In order to guarantee equality, diversity and inclusion across social media platforms, technological solutions need to be developed to identify and track non-compliant messaging at a large scale. This has become of increasing societal importance as well as legal and commercial importance to the big tech companies who provide social media platforms. Our research in Multimodal Data Analysis for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) has focused on the development of data sets for this task as well as the development of innovative algorithms for addressing this challenge accurately and at scale.

Sports analytics is an Insight strength, across a number of sporting disciplines including rugby, soccer, physical education in schools and recreational and elite running. Our researchers have been working on a wide range of research activities related to the scientific underpinnings of elite and recreational running such as data related to training behaviours and race performance and strategy, leveraging data from wearable sensors measuring biomechanical or physiological markers and clinical/human factors. Under the Insight Recreational Running Research Programme, we have brought all Insight running-related research together on an integrated platform. This has resulted in targeted investment for the development of the largest recreational running research programme that has ever been attempted.

Insight has a longstanding track record of scientific excellence in studies that leverage data from wearable devices to understand or enhance human behaviour and performance. In more recent years the scope of this work has expanded to address issues such as validity of wearables, human factors issues associated with their use and deepening our understanding of the potential data value of wearables. This places Insight at the forefront of this emerging field as industry and society seek to consolidate the place of wearables in different aspects of life from wellness to sport to healthcare.

Dexterous robotic manipulation is a fast-moving area of global scientific enquiry. Insight is a key player. We are developing a model-based reinforcement learning framework which can fuse both vision and touch sensation to improve the rate and reliability of robotic grasping and manipulation. The potential for this technology in manufacturing, engineering, surgery, communications, entertainment, human mobility and many other fields is enormous.

Next month we celebrate our tenth birthday and we are immensely proud of the huge leaps we are making in the novel areas described above. Over the month of May we will be shining a light on these #InsightExcellence initiatives. Stay tuned.

We have many more emerging fields of collaboration and innovation, in areas such as climate sustainability, manufacturing, transport, clinical diagnostics, agrifood, human wellbeing and more. We expect excellent breakthroughs from these quarters to emerge in the coming decade.