Empower puts Ireland on track for data governance leadership

Empower Director, Markus Helfert, Professor in Digital Service Innovation, Innovation Value Institute and School of Business, Maynooth University. (Photo by Uta Schubert)
Tuesday, November 2, 2021 - 13:45

A new academic and industry research programme, designed to future proof EU data flows and drive innovations in data protection internationally, was launched today by Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris TD.

The Empower programme will develop systems to protect citizens and work to their advantage while streamlining data exchange in the European business ecosystem.

The programme represents research of almost €10 million focused on Data Platforms, Data Governance and Ecosystems, and will involve researchers from four SFI Research Centres: Lero, the programme lead, Insight, ADAPT and FutureNeuro, coordinated by Empower Director, Professor Markus Helfert, based in Maynooth University.

Speaking at the launch of Empower, Minister Harris said: “One of this Government's core ambitions is to build competitive advantage and to foster enterprise development through a world-class research and innovation system.  Empower clearly demonstrates that when we combine talent and investment, we here in Ireland can undertake cutting-edge, impactful research.  We can compete with the very best internationally and we can contribute solutions to global challenges.  Empower is an important strategic research project for our country and I'd like to congratulate and wish everyone involved the very best for the project.”

Professor Helfert, Maynooth University, said the research would focus on developing a data ecosystem that benefits all users while defining and safeguarding the rights of data sharers.

“Data ecosystems, such as smart cities or connected health networks, present new challenges that require a fundamental reconsideration of how we manage and use data. While an effective data ecosystem can empower the exchange of knowledge from organisations and individuals, data movement can also give rise to risks that need to be managed from a socio-ethical perspective,” he added.

“It is crucial that organisations offer individuals transparency and accountability of their user data to ensure they are truly empowered by data flows in new systems such as smart homes and smart cities.

“Empower will explore how we design and implement intelligent systems that leverage ‘shared’ data within the data ecosystems. Solutions need to respect the rights and freedoms of users while turning personal data into an asset for the population and society,” added Empower Director Professor Helfert.

Empower brings together multidisciplinary research in data governance from across the participating SFI Research Centres to achieve this goal. Lero, FutureNeuro, Insight and ADAPT, share a strong culture of academic-industry collaboration with companies across sectors experiencing disruptive transitions to data and AI-driven business models, such as software development, health, biotech, fintech, medtech, agritech, smart city, mobility, media and publishing, sports performance, automotive, and construction.  Empower’s academic researchers will work together with a number of companies including Meta, Siemens, Huawei, Trūata, Trilateral Research, Genesys, P4ML, RedZinc Services and Analog Devices (ADI) to develop innovations in data governance that will have the potential to benefit individuals and companies.

Speaking at the launch, Professor Mark Ferguson, Director General, Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government, said: “We are pleased to be supporting Empower, which brings together leading expertise from four SFI Research Centres with industry. Empower provides significant opportunities for Ireland both in terms of research reputation and economic impact. Empower will enable Ireland to take advantage of new opportunities provided by advances in data management and governance across multiple sectors.”

Professor Brian Fitzgerald, Director of Lero, the SFI Research Centre for Software, said: “World-class research is urgently required to ensure that this transformation truly empowers individuals and that organisations can offer individuals transparency and accountability of their ‘shared’ data.”

Professor Vincent Wade, Director of the ADAPT Centre for AI-Driven Digital Content Technology said: “We live in a world where people are anxious about how their data is used and rightly concerned that it is not misused, yet wish to benefit from a digitally enhanced living and working world.  In ADAPT we are applying our expertise in AI and data governance to research technology to address the worldwide problems of data control and privacy, in partnership with some of Ireland’s leading research centres.   Empower is an international gamechanger, a flagship research and industry innovation programme that develops techniques and technology for protecting your data, and crucial information. As part of the Empower programme, ADAPT is committed to supporting the research spectrum from Ethics to AI-driven technology so that we all have the necessary protection and security in a 21st century technological world.”

Professor Noel O’Connor, CEO of the Insight SFI Research Centre for Data Analytics, said: “Given its value to society, data is often referred to as the new oil. Like oil, it needs to be refined, which is the role of data governance, ensuring that the highest quality data is available as the basis for making important decisions. Unlike oil, the amount of data in the world continues to grow, presenting ongoing challenges for citizens, governments and industry. Empower is a critical national initiative that ensures Irish research leaders in data governance are at the forefront of addressing these challenges.”

Professor David Henshall, Director of the SFI FutureNeuro Centre for chronic and rare neurological disease based at RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences said: “As a health-focused research centre, we welcome Empower as a national forum to drive the safe and ethical use of health data. The forum will create a community of interest, bringing together healthcare consumers, patient groups, clinicians, health policy-makers and managers, academic researchers, industry partners and data protection regulators. The launch of Empower is an important milestone to facilitate collaborative, transparent and citizen-centric opportunities that will support continuous improvement in health diagnostics, therapeutics and models of care for the benefit of society.”

About Empower: The vision for Empower is to develop a global data ecosystem that will effectively govern the vast amounts of data that move among actors within complex global information supply chains. The research will advance an alignment between business goals and societal needs to develop methodologies and tools addressing challenges around key areas such as reliability/reproducibility, privacy, provenance, consent, explainability, inclusiveness and avoidance of unfair bias. www.empower-datagovernance.ie
Empower is supported through the SFI Spokes Programme.  This programme is a vehicle to enable the addition of new industrial and academic partners and projects to a SFI Research Centre, so allowing the Centre to expand and develop in line with new priorities and opportunities. It is expected that the Spokes Programme will enhance the ability of SFI Research Centres to deliver significant economic and societal impact for Ireland. The Spokes programme also provides a vehicle to link together different Research Centres, in a meaningful and relevant way. As part of the SFI Spokes Programme, a mechanism designed to support SFI Research Centres to work together on projects of strategic national value, these are funded equally by industry and the Exchequer. Empower can leverage the expertise from the Centres, forming a unique hub of knowledge, likely to position Ireland as the leader in AI-driven data governance internationally.

Empower forms part of Ireland’s National AI Strategy (https://bit.ly/2ZedgtB), published in July by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. It is also guided by principles of the European Commission Data Strategy 2020 (https://bit.ly/3ndI1qq), which prioritises the development of common European data spaces to allow safe and seamless data sharing between companies of all sizes across the EU.

About Maynooth University
Maynooth University is ranked #1 in Ireland and the only Irish university to be named in in the latest Times Higher Education (THE) 100 Best Young University Rankings. Tracing its origins to the foundation of the Royal College of St Patrick in 1795, Maynooth University was formally established as an autonomous university in 1997. Maynooth is Ireland’s fastest growing university with more than 14,000 students, including almost 1,800 taught postgraduate and professional students and 530 research students.

About Lero
Lero, the SFI Research Centre for Software, brings together expert software teams from universities and institutes of technology across Ireland in a co-ordinated centre of research excellence with a strong industry focus. The Centre is ranked second among software research centres worldwide for citations, and it partners with many of the top technology companies in the world.

Lero’s research spans a wide range of application domains from driverless cars to artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, fintech, govtech, smart communities, agtech and healthtech.

Hosted by the University of Limerick, Lero’s academic partners include Dublin City University, Trinity College Dublin, University College Dublin, Maynooth University, National University of Ireland Galway, University College Cork, Munster Technological University, Technological University of the Shannon, Waterford Institute of Technology, Dundalk Institute of Technology and GMIT. www.lero.ie

ADAPT is the world-leading SFI Research Centre for AI Driven Digital Content Technology hosted by Trinity College Dublin.  ADAPT’s partner institutions include Dublin City University, University College Dublin, Technological University Dublin, Maynooth University, Munster Technological University, Athlone Institute of Technology, and the National University of Ireland Galway. ADAPT’s research vision is to pioneer new forms of proactive, scalable, and integrated AI-driven Digital Content Technology that empower individuals and society to engage in digital experiences with control, inclusion, and accountability with the long-term goal of a balanced digital society by 2030. ADAPT is pioneering new Human Centric AI techniques and technologies including personalisation, natural language processing, data analytics, intelligent machine translation, human-computer interaction, as well as setting the standards for data governance, privacy and ethics for digital content. www.adaptcentre.ie

About FutureNeuro
FutureNeuro is the SFI Research Centre for Chronic and Rare Neurological Disease, hosted by RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences. Its partner institutions are Trinity College Dublin, Dublin City University, National University of Ireland, Galway, Waterford Institute of Technology, University College Cork and University College Dublin.

The FutureNeuro objective is to change the patient journey through research informed by the needs of both patients and neurologists. This includes developing rapid and accurate tools for diagnosis, the development of therapies to correct damaged brain networks, technologies to enable patients to monitor their own health and well-being, and linking this to Ireland’s national imaging, diagnostics and eHealth infrastructure.

FutureNeuro connects national and multinational industry with key academics and clinicians based in Ireland’s leading hospitals to provide diagnostic, therapeutic and eHealth solutions. Its projects with industry partners bring diagnostic supports to market, a pipeline of new drugs, and connected health solutions that enable patients to monitor and report their health better than ever before. Visit www.futureneurocentre.ie  to learn more.

About Insight
The Insight SFI Research Centre for Data Analytics is a joint initiative between Centre leaders DCU, NUI Galway, UCC, and UCD.  Insight also has researchers in MU, UL, TCD and the Tyndall Institute. Insight comprises over 450 data and AI researchers across a range of areas from data capture and storage to data mining, analysis and modelling. The sites collaborate in teams of researchers advancing projects in application domains such as Connected Health, Smart Enterprise, Smart Communities and Sustainability. Insight is one of the largest data research centres in Europe and is part of a network of industrial partnerships and European funding collaborations that puts the Centre, and Ireland, at the forefront of AI innovation in the EU. www.insight-centre.org