By James Conroy – Journalist – former Assistant Psychologist – Contributor . Inquisitor of user-experience, communities, perception & design.

Last week saw some of Ireland’s brightest technology minds gather at Cork’s City hall for the 2017 Tech Summit to discuss topics from Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Healthtech, to Virtual Reality and the Future of Work. The conference was chaired by Anthony O’ Callaghan – Director of Analytics and Artificial Intelligence at Johnson Controls. Mr O’ Callaghan opened the event by having a conversation with Amazon’s ‘Alexa’ – an AI personal assistant that lives in the cloud (internet-based) and is voice-activated.

The AI software uses machine learning to enable automatic speech recognition, and to enhance its natural language understanding capabilities. An appropriate opening to a tech summit.

One lucky conference-goer was gifted their very own Alexa to take home for engaging with the summit App created by Westbourne IT Global Services.

Alexa was able to answer questions from Mr  O’ Callaghan such as “how can attendee’s get the best out of the summit?” – advising the tech-savvy audience to converse and probe collaboration over the course of the day. The event was also a great opportunity for those less immersed in the technology sector to hear about the latest news and research, and to explore how they could – and should – get involved.

Next up on stage was Caroline O’ Driscoll – resident partner at KPMG and newly appointed [email protected] chair, who was quick to address the urgent need for technology and programming classes to be introduced to the school curriculum here in Ireland.

“we should force schools to do this by making it compulsory to do so”

O’ Driscoll believes not doing so will put our future workforce at a serious disadvantage in a world that is becoming increasingly digitized. This is particularly true when we consider “Dublin’s developers make up nearly 10% of the city’s working population” – according to a new report.

The [email protected] chair also highlighted the need for more world-class office spaces in Cork to continue attracting the best companies to the city. O’ Driscoll believes projects such as the 310,000 sq. ft ‘Navigation Square‘ will be key in solidifying Cork City Centre as a hub for multinational and Irish companies. The offices would stand as the second Lee-facing pillar of innovation and technology alongside One Albert Quay – Ireland’s smartest building.

One Albert Quay, Cork. Interview with a smart building, IoT grows smarter in our cities

Office rental in Cork is currently 50% lower than Dublin and O’ Driscoll believes the success of development projects like City Gate Park highlight the increasing demand for Grade A, next-generation offices in the southern capital.

O’ Driscoll also praised digital hub Republic of Work for their contribution to productive, innovative, forward-thinking work environments. The 15,500 sq. ft “Entrepreneur Innovation Centre & WorkSpace” located at 12 South Mall has been host to many different IT and Business conferences since opening in February.

IDA Ireland were also commended for their role in attracting inward investment – having marked a second year of record growth contributing to over 14,000 jobs.

O’ Driscoll is clearly not afraid to think big when it comes to Cork, suggesting it “could be the first automated city in the world” – challenging cities like Tokyo and Singapore for the title and even hinted at a “light rail system”. She believes Cork will need to take full advantage of being the second largest English-speaking city in Europe with Brexit looming.

“We can make our mark”

O’ Driscoll also spent time highlighting the potential of the Cork docklands where over 6 million sq. ft of land resides – and whose potential has been lying dormant for years. Talks on developing the land may depend on the success of the Cork City flood defense plan which hopes to aid the low-lying quayside areas.

During the talk she also drew attention to greater Dublin’s contribution of 47% to Ireland’s GDP – a figure that far exceeds that of cities like London who contribute a much lower 22% to the UK GDP.

“Dublin is overheating and is under pressure… we could be the viable alternative”

“We’re big on life, big on talent, and big on tech”

Other projects currently underway in Cork include the €78m redevelopment of Páirc Uí Chaoimh, the construction of a new courthouse building on Anglesea Street for €21m, and a €3m overhaul of Kent railway station.

Recent news of a potential 40-story tower to be developed at the Port of Cork, and the soon-to-be-complete Capital building which is set to host FaceBook and Virtual Reality giants Oculus, all suggest that the Cork tech community could be set grow exponentially in the coming years.

Ms. O’Driscoll sounds ready to embrace the challenge.

“We can forget everything and run, or face everything and rise. That’s our choice.”


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