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How can AI be a force for good? Hackathon and panel discussion

Minister Simon Harris DFHERIS surrounded by NCI students
Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris TD, visited National College of Ireland (NCI) to present awards for an ‘AI for Good’ Hackathon.

Minister Harris commented: "The use of AI tools is going to transform the way we live, learn and work in the coming years. Ireland is ahead of the curve in anticipating this change with the National AI Strategy we put in place two years ago, and the students of NCI are leading the charge in solving the problems of tomorrow in the course of their studies. I was delighted to witness the ingenuity of the students to one of the great challenges – and opportunities – of our generation." 

Organised in partnership with British Council in Ireland, as part of their ‘Stronger Together’ initiative, and supported by KTI (Knowledge Transfer Ireland), participants were asked to consider how AI could contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

Postgraduate students from NCI’s School of Computing addressed subjects as diverse as early cancer detection in marginalised communities, foetal health tracking for those living in remote areas, and air pollution.

Winners of AI for Good Hackathon, Team Little Life - with Minister Simon Harris, NCI President Professor Gina Quin and judges

Minister Simon Harris presented prizes, alongside President of NCI, Professor Gina Quin, and Hackathon judges, David Smith, Huawei; Dr Prag Sharma, Citi; Deirdre O’Neill, Enterprise Ireland.

First prize went toTeam Little Life (pictured above): Amrit Laxmanasa Shidling, Sneha Muralidhar and Pradeep Narayanaswamy; and second prize went to Team Mammoscan (pictured below): Hudson Paul, Simani Future Monyatsi, Vamshi Krishna, Joshua Oluwafe Komolafe and Manuel Amir Freer Valdez.

Team Mammoscan, with Minister Simon Harris, President of NCI Professor Gina Quin and Hackathon Judges

Minister Simon Harris and President of NCI Professor Gina Quin with AI for Good panellists

Minister Harris and Professor Quin then met with panellists taking part in the discussion that followed the Hackathon, tackling the question: How can AI be a force for good? including Dr Dónal Fullam, Assistant Professor at the Creative Futures Academy and UCD; Professor Paul Stynes, Dean of NCI's School of Computing; Dr Maxine Mackintosh, Genomics England; Dr Kerry McCall Magan, British Council in Ireland; and Malcolm Love, Moderator.

Introducing the panel on behalf of the British Council, Director for Ireland, Dr Kerry McCall Magan said: “The global Stronger Together programme aims to create an enabling environment which brings together young people with representatives of government, civil society, enterprise, and institutions; this event does all that and poses a question the answer to which will shape our future.”

Keynote speaker, Dr Maxine Mackintosh, who leads the Diverse Data initiative at Genomics England and is a visiting researcher at the Alan Turing Institute, noted: “AI has already positively affected health outcomes for many; however, there is still bias in the data we collect and the analytical approaches we take, which means many people might not benefit from these powerful advances. AI is an ecosystem in its infancy, therefore we have a chance to shape it to be a force for good, to imbue it with our values."

Slide from Dr Maxine Mackintosh's deck point out that AI bias is a reflection of societal biases.

Other panellists were Ciaran Fennessy, Head of Strategy & Transformation at Citi and an Adjunct lecturer in AI; and Murugaraj Dhamoradan, First Secretary and Deputy Head of Mission at the Indian Embassy in Dublin.

Deputy Head of Mission for the British Embassy, Elin Burns also spoke, celebrating the partnership between British Council and NCI, as did Professor Jimmy Hill, Vice President of NCI on behalf of the College.

Panellists and special guests at NCI's 'How can AI be a force for good?' hackathon September 2023

Dr Kerry McCall Magan, Malcolm Love, Dr Dónal Fullam, Elin Burns, Professor Paul Stynes, Dr Maxine Mackintosh, Murugaraj Dhamoradan, Deirdre O'Neill, and Dr Anu Sahni, Assistant Professor of Computing at NCI, who organised this set of events on behalf of NCI in collaboration with colleagues Dr Michael Bradford and Dr Musfira Jilani and with the support of Commercial Manager, Bertie Kelly, who acts as Technology Transfer Officer for NCI.

Professor Gina Quin, President of National College of Ireland said: “I was proud to welcome Minister Harris to this event, to meet our students and learn of the work NCI is doing in the field of AI. 

“The panel of distinguished experts from across the fields of education, commerce, art and creative industries, culture and economics, took on all the challenges of AI presented to them by our audience: from the threat to intellectual property, to labour, to privacy, and to sustainability through the energy consumption required to process large amounts of data. 

“We were provided with many insights into how AI can be a force for good, both ethically and for the bottom line; however, it will take transparency, explicability, and democratic design to ensure it benefits all. 

“I know that the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment are currently assembling an AI Advisory Council to consider many of the perspectives aired today and provide independent expert advice to government.”

Minister Simon Harris chatting with students at NCI's AI for Good Hackathon

Students were delighted with the rare privilege of getting to chat directly with the Minister

Biographies of keynote speaker and panellists

Dr Maxine Mackintosh – keynote and panellist 
Maxine leads the Diverse Data initiative at Genomics England, which aims to reduce health inequalities in genomic medicine by ensuring patients, regardless of their background, receive the same quality of genomics-enabled personalised medicine, supported by the latest research on people like them. Maxine is also the co-founder of One HealthTech – a global, volunteer-led, grassroots community that supports and promotes under-represented groups in health innovation. OHT has over 20,000 contributors worldwide across 20 Hubs which have collectively delivered over 1000 events, projects, campaigns and initiatives improving diversity in healthtech. She also set up Data Science for Health Equity, a community of practice that brings together those with expertise in data science and health inequalities to connect and collaborate on cutting-edge domains in health. She has been part of a number of communities and committees including being a Non-Executive Director for the Eastern Academic Health Science Network, a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers, and the British Computer Society (Health Exec) and the DeepMind Health Independent Review Board.

Dr Paul Stynes
Dr Paul Stynes, Professor of Computing, is Dean of the School of Computing at National College of Ireland, with a history of working in both higher education and industry. Skilled in leading educational programme development, research, knowledge transfer, and international collaborations, Paul has demonstrated research and scholarship with over 40 scientific publications in Educational Management and AI/Machine Learning. Paul holds a PhD in AI from Trinity College Dublin and a Masters from the University of Limerick.

Deirdre O’Neill
Deirdre O’Neill is Senior Development Advisor with Enterprise Ireland. With over 20 years’ experience working in Enterprise Ireland, her current role is to drive our regional strategy and to grow an ecosystem which supports indigenous enterprise and entrepreneurs in the region, in collaboration with all key stakeholders, including Local Authorities, State Agencies, Third Level Institutions and Entrepreneurs. Deirdre enjoys the diversity of the role and the successes that come from the investments made by Enterprise Ireland. 

Dr Dónal Fullam
Dr Dónal Fullam is Assistant Professor in Creative and Cultural Industries, based in the School of Art History and Cultural Policy at University College Dublin. His research deals with music and art in contemporary algorithmic culture, focusing on the philosophical and technical foundations of algorithmic music composition, human-computer creative relationships and the intersections between art and technology in general. He has substantial experience as a performer, in two very different musical worlds. He is a founding member of the National Concert Hall Gamelan Orchestra, the premiere performing ensemble for traditional Javanese music in Ireland, and he is a regular performer with various underground bands which have toured throughout Ireland, Europe, Russia and Australia. He is also a founding member and organiser of the Karate Club, a non-profit music rehearsal and arts space in Dublin city that has been running for over fifteen years.

Ciaran Fennessy
Ciaran is Head of Strategy & Transformation at Citi and an Adjunct lecturer in AI.  An innovative technology leader, Ciaran has led AI initiatives that have resulted in increased organisational efficiency and enhanced client experiences. Throughout his career in global investment banks, Ciaran has showcased leadership by successfully executing AI initiatives, large technology programs and high-profile client onboarding programs. 
Ciaran is well-versed in the challenges and opportunities presented by AI technologies and is a knowledgeable and confident educator in this space. Ciaran has a passion for technology and the future of artificial intelligence, however, he approaches it with a thoughtful consideration of its potential risks and ethical implications. 
Ciaran’s scientific background fuels his curiosity, and he actively contributes to the field through lectures in AI, ensuring he remains at the forefront of leading-edge technology advancements and their practical application.

Murugaraj Dhamodaran
Having joined the Indian Foreign Service in 2013, Murugaraj is currently First Secretary and Deputy Head of Mission at the Embassy of India in Dublin, handling Political, Commerce, Education, Press and Information. Previous postings include the Indian Embassies in Egypt (Third Secretary) and Jordan (Secretary; and handling Gulf Desk and India’s Development Partnership Administration in Head Quarters.
He has a BE Mechanical Engineering; M.Tech Advanced Manufac. Tech and a PG Dip in Business Admin, and enjoys reading, marathon running, yoga, painting and travelling.

Hackathon judges (over both phases) comprised:

Dr Prag Sharma, Head of AI, Citi;

Deirdre O’Neill, Senior Regional Development Executive, Enterprise Ireland

David Smith, Head of Ecosystems Development – Service Provider Lab, Huawei

Swapnil Parashar, Software Development Manager at AWS;

Andrew Keogh, Executive Coach at Aristo

Ciara Smullen, CEO Sightsavers Ireland

Paddy O’Boyle, Director of Business Development (ICT) at DCU.