Tuesday, 2 November 2021 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 at Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland, 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 SFI Research Centre ADAPT, 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, 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.”