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Glasgow AI experts receive UK Government funding

Two of Glasgow’s leading scientists will develop cutting-edge Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology thanks to a £20 million UK Government cash boost

The Scottish projects, at the University of Glasgow and University of Strathclyde, are among fifteen innovative projects receiving the new Turing AI fellowships as part of the UK government’s ambition to establish the UK as a world leader in AI and support researchers to scale up their innovations.

Dr Antonio Hurtado, University of Strathclyde, received £1.16 million. He aims to meet the growing demand across the UK economy to process large volumes of data fast and efficiently, while minimising the energy required to do so.

His AI technology will use laser light, similar to those used in supermarket checkouts, to perform complex tasks at ultrafast speed - from weather forecasting to processing images for medical diagnostics.

Being able to perform these tasks at lightning speed, with minimal energy consumption, could help to transform industries such as energy, healthcare and finance, improving efficiency, while helping the UK to meet its net zero ambitions by 2050.

Dr Hurtado said:

“AI systems are key tools to make sense of huge volumes of data but consume very high levels of energy and increasingly contribute to global greenhouse gas emissions.

“Operating in a similar way to the biological neurons that process information in the brain, the new photonic devices will be able to process data at high speeds while reducing energy consumption, helping the UK to meet its net zero carbon ambitions by 2050.

“The new technology’s potential capability to perform complex computational tasks at ultrafast speed could see it used across a range of sectors – from meteorology forecasting to processing images at very fast rates for medical diagnostics.”

Dr Jeff Dalton, University of Glasgow, received £1.59 million. He aims to revolutionize voice-based personal assistants, moving beyond the simple tasks and limited conversations performed by current assistants, such as Alexa and Siri.

His team studies how assistants can learn to collaborate with people to accomplish longer, more complex tasks like researching the causes of climate change or cooking a perfect Christmas dinner.

Dr Dalton’s team will be developing novel deep learning-based methods capable of supporting long-running, more natural conversations. It will enable more explainable machine reasoning, simplified assistant development, and interactive agents capable of learning to ask questions and offer feedback.

Dr Dalton believes there is significant potential for the impact of the research to enable businesses, agencies, and individuals to solve complex tasks using conversational assistants more effectively and efficiently.

Dr Dalton said:

Being awarded the Turing AI Acceleration Fellowship is an incredible honour. We are very excited by the opportunity to accelerate progress on the next generation of virtual assistants that will transform our economy and society.

This award is key in building a world-leading research group in Scotland with state-of-the-art deep-learning hardware for conversational AI that will enable us to perform large-scale experiments on real-world datasets to maximize impact.

Our goal is to democratize the emerging ‘voice web’ by enabling non-experts to rapidly develop assistants using open-source technology. Our research will support the creation of a new generation of open assistants applicable to diverse sectors. The fellowship will accelerate our research using large-scale machine learning models to create the next generation of assistants capable of deeper language understanding and more transparent reasoning.

The Turing AI Acceleration Fellowships will give fifteen of the UK’s top AI researchers the resources to work with academia and industry to drive forward their ground-breaking research and technologies and bring their innovations to the real world, from speeding up medical diagnosis to increasing workplace productivity.

As a result of the government investment, fellows will work with academia and industry to help elevate their world class research and transfer their innovations from the lab to the real world. These innovations have the potential to change how people live, work and communicate, helping to place the UK at the forefront of the AI and data revolution.

Science Minister, Amanda Solloway, said:

The UK is the birthplace of artificial intelligence and we therefore have a duty to equip the next generation of Alan Turings, like Professor Antonio Hurtado and Dr Jeff Dalton in Scotland, with the tools that will keep the UK at the forefront of this remarkable technological innovation.

Scotland has a rich history of innovating and the inspiring projects we are backing – from AI that can process data at lightning speed to virtual assistants performing complicated information tasks – will help to transform the way we live and work, while cementing the UK’s status as a world leader in AI and data.

Digital Minister, Caroline Dinenage, said:

The UK is a nation of innovators and this government investment will help our talented academics use cutting-edge technology to improve people’s daily lives - from delivering better disease diagnosis to managing our energy needs.

UK Government Minister for Scotland, Iain Stewart, said:

Backed by UK Government funding, these trailblazing scientists are pushing the boundaries of AI.

The UK Government is investing hundreds of millions of pounds in Scottish universities and there is much more in the pipeline.

This week, the Chancellor committed £14.6bn in funding for R&D in the Spending Review, which means investment in Scotland’s world-leading universities will continue to grow.

This funding is very well deserved.

The Fellowships forms part of a major government investment in AI skills and research, including sixteen Centres for Doctoral Training in AI and conversion courses to train the next generation of AI experts, announced by the Prime Minister Boris Johnson in October 2019.

Named after British AI pioneer Alan Turing, the £20 million fellowship scheme will be delivered by Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), in partnership with the Alan Turing Institute and Office for Artificial intelligence.

It follows the publication of the government’s ambitious R&D Roadmap in June this year, which committed to investing in ground breaking research and supporting the UK’s risk takers to scale up their innovations.

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