Regional investment high on the agenda at Digital DNA Belfast

Chatsworth’s Belfast team attended Digital DNA Belfast last week in the iconic St George’s Market. We met up with key influencers in the local tech ecosystem to explore the future of tech in the city and beyond.

Sessions included speakers from firms such as Datactics, Dell, IBM, Raise Ventures and STATSports and covered everything from artificial intelligence (AI) and deep fakes to spreading investment beyond London and harnessing academic research.

Here are some of our highlights:

Northern Ireland’s position as a tech hub

While there wasn’t a specific session dedicated to building Northern Ireland’s profile as a tech hub on the agenda, it was a key topic of conversation on the day. The region’s tech expertise and knowledge are widely known and it boasts one of the fastest-growing tech sectors in the UK.

An insightful panel discussion took place on the frontier stage that typified the growth of Northern Ireland’s firms and their subsequent reputations. Representatives from some of its most rapidly accelerating organisations such as STATSports and TeamFeePay discussed the topic of “Igniting Innovation – From Disruption to Dominance”. 

Much of the conversation among attendees on the day was focused on improving NI’s position as a tech hub. The biggest barriers were political instability and spreading investment beyond London, while the biggest selling point was NI’s entrepreneurship, expertise and talent which combine to make it a great place to start up a tech firm.

Global technology leaders, such as Fujitsu, SAP, Microsoft, and Nvidia, have established business operations in Northern Ireland because of the wealth of knowledge, skills, support and talent available.

Northern Ireland has also developed its own vibrant and innovative tech sector with locally owned firms such as Kainos and FD Technologies that are exporting internationally.

According to a report by the Digital Economy Council, the tech sector now accounts for more than one in seven jobs in the region. The data also shows that 15 per cent of new jobs are in tech, with a 12.4 per cent month-on-month increase.

NI is now viewed as a hub brimming with potential and boasts a high level of employable talent, as showcased in Deloitte’s most recent Technology Fast 50 List, featuring nine companies from across Northern Ireland.

A vibrant tech community and an ecosystem built on collaboration have thrust Northern Ireland’s tech scene into the limelight. Belfast was awarded a FinTech Strategy specialism award in 2021 and ranked second for FinTech Strategy among mid-sized European Cities of the Future 2022/23.

Combatting deep fakes

We attended a session entitled, Don’t Believe Your Eyes: Can the law do anything to combat deep fakes, delivered by DWF Director James Griffiths.

The session was incredibly interesting – and fairly terrifying. Aside from the outrageous personal and social ramifications deep fakes have wrought (duping audio through ‘voice skins’ etc), AI-generated videos have sent the financial sector, in particular, spinning.

Just last month, a manipulated video popped up online showing an alleged explosion near the U.S. Department of Defence. Though Pentagon officials quickly confirmed these reports of an explosion were false, the video made its way through social media and investment sites like wildfire causing stocks to drop. The S&P 500 briefly dipped 0.3%, and prices for U.S. Treasury such as gold briefly began to climb suggesting investors were looking for security. 

Though the US-UK announced an initiative in 2020 with the aim of tackling AI risk, one wonders if their joint action will be fast-acting or robust enough. 

Is financial security reliable enough, and comprehensive enough that deepfakes can be caught before they do any real damage? Is it a matter of time before this technology evolves and improves to the point where we have a hard time distinguishing the real from the fake at all? Hundreds of AI experts and public figures recently published a statement on AI’s risk warning against exactly this and likening the potential scale of such risks to ‘pandemics and nuclear war.’

To say that security across the financial sector is already at a point of contention would be an understatement. Adding a fight against the malicious and purposeful manipulation of the marketplace through deep fakes to the mix will certainly make for an interesting landscape in the coming years.

AI – separating reality from the hype

For years, AI technology has been widely used by fintech and tech firms to automate repetitive processes, such as data entry and background analysis and improve decision-making by simplifying analytics. Recent developments such as ChatGPT present an opportunity to take this progress further.

It was therefore no surprise that multiple sessions were dedicated to AI and the technology came up in nearly every session.

One of the most important panels of the day was ‘What are the risks of using AI in your business: Hype vs Reality?’. While the panel recognised AI’s potential, it warned businesses not to go all in without investigating thoroughly and highlighted risks related to errors and liability, ethics, data privacy and security.

In a separate session, Harry Hope, Chief Technology Officer at Insider, shared how the publication plans to harness a technology which was tipped to completely disrupt the media industry. Insider journalists are allowed to explore tools such as Chat GPT which can help with research and brainstorming but, crucially, they won’t use it to write for them. Nicholas Carlson, Global Editor in Chief at Insider, recently wrote a memo to Insider staff about this sharing the same sentiment.

The feeling at the event was that while AI will undoubtedly be an important tool for businesses in all sorts of industries, we mustn’t get caught up in the hype and utilise it sensibly.

The event drew in 2,000 attendees and was a great showcase of all the collaboration and innovation in Northern Ireland’s tech industry.


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