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Cisco and UCL to open AI research unit in $100m digital economy boost

Cisco has extended its ongoing Country Digital Acceleration programme in the UK with a further $100m investment, part of which will go towards a new AI research centre

Cisco has announced a $100m (£76.8m) funding commitment to accelerate digital innovation around the UK, supporting a number of new initiatives including the opening of one of the world’s largest artificial intelligence (AI) research centres at University College London (UCL).

The commitment extends Cisco’s existing Country Digital Acceleration (CDA) programme, which has already seen the network supplier support a number of projects aligned to the government’s digital strategy.

These include Project Swift, a collaboration with Innovate UK, Network Rail and ScotRail to enhance railway communications, and the launch of Manchester’s Mi-IDEA centre, a post-accelerator and startup hub that is working closely with the CityVerve smart city project.

The project extension will align closely with the so-called Grand Challenges set out by the government alongside its Industrial Strategy – Artificial Intelligence and Data, the Ageing Society, Clean Growth, and the Future of Mobility.

“The UK has become the natural destination in Europe for the largest and most innovative tech companies to operate and invest,” said new digital secretary, Jeremy Wright. “Cisco’s strong commitment to the UK highlights that we have the ambition, research excellence and regulatory environment for world-leading firms to develop the innovations that will change people’s lives for the better.”

The UCL AI lab – the first new major initiative to be announced – will see Cisco work closely with academics to address industry challenges and, crucially, develop future AI talent to support an industry that could add £232bn to the UK economy by 2030.

The AI Centre will be home to more than 200 researchers and academics, and will train up AI masters students to address opportunities around areas such as healthcare, transport and commerce. It will open its doors later this year.

“It’s wonderful to renew our partnership with Cisco and work together to upskill the UK in machine learning and artificial intelligence,” said UCL president and provost Michael Arthur. “I am particularly looking forward to opening the new AI Centre in the coming months to position us as a sector leader in computer science.”

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With regard to the other Grand Challenges, Cisco will also be working on initiatives around the Ageing Society through its participation in an already-announced project under way in Suffolk that will address digital inclusion among the elderly; exploring new partnerships to address digitisation in the energy sector to support Clean Growth; and exploring new projects in rail and road, including connected and autonomous vehicles, and commercialising Project Swift more widely, to support the Future of Mobility.

“Technology is permeating everything we do, not only opening up new markets, but creating more opportunities for individuals, businesses and countries,” said Cisco chairman and CEO Chuck Robbins. “Cisco is committed to driving innovation in the UK and to our continued partnership with the UK government through our Country Digital Acceleration programme.

“We believe that the UK’s expertise in AI and its commitment to making sure future innovators have the right digital skills will help ensure the nation’s citizens are well positioned to capture the opportunity ahead.”

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