Advances in artificial intelligence (AI) represent a huge opportunity for Northern Ireland’s tech sector but companies will have to invest if they want to take advantage of it, a major conference has heard.

Now in its 9th year, Big Data Belfast, presented by Analytics Engines and supported by headline sponsor EY, took place at the ICC Belfast, bringing together more than 700 delegates from the country’s technology sector.

The conference provided expert insights into the world of data, with a variety of speakers and panel sessions across a range of hot topics including AI, ChatGPT, net zero, ESG and media.

The Global Generative AI market is expected to be worth over $110bn by 2030 and the conference heard about its potential to solve problems and simplify tasks that previously would have had to be done manually.

But delegates also heard that AI technology is advancing so quickly that businesses who don’t embrace the change and invest in upskilling to understand the latest developments risk missing out.

Analytics Engines’ managing director, Dr Aislinn Rice, said: “With a thriving technology ecosystem full of innovative companies, it’s no surprise that Northern Ireland is being referred to as a ‘testing centre’ for artificial intelligence in the UK.

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“The speed and sophistication of AI solutions being created on this island is breath-taking, and this new technology creates a big opportunity for the region.

“Analytics Engines has been developing and implementing AI solutions for many years but in 2022, I don’t think many of us were talking about large language models, generative AI or ChatGPT.”

Gareth Kelly, partner at EY Northern Ireland, said: “There’s no doubt that generative AI represents a huge opportunity for many different segments of the business world.

“Many companies in Northern Ireland are developing clever uses of AI and it is incumbent on all of us to take the time to assess and analyse the implications of the latest advances to ensure that we can make the most of the opportunities created.”

Speakers at Big Data Belfast also included citizen astronaut candidate Dr Norah Patten; Catherine Doyle, managing director of Dell Technologies in Ireland; Justin Edwards from Minecraft Education; Sebastián Lancestremère, sports managing director at Microsoft; and Tarek Madany Mamlouk from Axel Springer.

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