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Government pumps £20m into AI research projects

Alan Turing Institute’s artificial intelligence (AI) research fellows will receive funding for 15 projects including using AI to detect cancer and improve the performance of virtual personal assistants

The government has announced a £20m funding boost for artificial intelligence (AI) research projects, covering issues such as identifying cancer earlier and processing data at lightning speed.

The funding is part of the government’s Alan Turing AI Fellowships, a state and IT industry-funded graduate education programme in AI, which was recommended in the independent government-sponsored review into the potential impact of AI on the UK economy in 2017.

The government has awarded 15 fellows with funding to drive forward a range of AI projects, including Christopher Yau at the University of Manchester, who plans to use AI technology to predict the development of cancer before it has fully formed, therefore allowing it to be treated earlier.

“I am very excited to have been awarded this fellowship, which will enable me to conduct groundbreaking research at the intersection of genomics and artificial intelligence,” he said. “Genomics will yield unprecedented amounts of data which necessitate the use of AI for their interpretation.

“I will be developing novel clinical information systems to provide cancer patients and clinicians with the very best genomics-guided personalised care to improve treatment effectiveness and survival rates. I am especially pleased to be working with a range of project partners, including Ovarian Cancer Action, to ensure that my research is conducted in partnership with patients.”

Another fellow receiving funding includes Antonio Hurtado at the University of Strathclyde, who aims to use AI to process large volumes of data at increasing speed. The AI technology will use laser light to perform “complex tasks at ultrafast speed – from weather forecasting to processing images for medical diagnostics”.

At the University if Glasgow, Jeff Dalton will use AI to improve the performance of virtual assistants, which can currently only hold limited conversations. He wants to build advanced information assistants to help solve information tasks, such as explaining the causes of climate change.

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Announcing the funding, science minister Amanda Solloway said the UK is the birthplace of AI, and that the country has a “duty to equip the next generation of Alan Turings with the tools that will keep the UK at the forefront of this remarkable technological innovation”.

“The inspirational fellows we are backing today will use AI to tackle some of our greatest challenges head on, transforming how people live, work and communicate, cementing the UK’s status as a world leader in AI and data,” she said.

The 15 fellows announced today will join five other fellows that have previously been awarded funding, as well as the Turing AI world-leading researcher fellowships due to be awarded in 2021.

In 2019, the government launched a set of initiatives as part of the AI Sector Deal component of the government’s Industrial Strategy, which was launched in April 2018.

At the time, the government put in £110m to support the programme, which includes 200 AI Masters places at UK universities funded by Deepmind, QuantumBlack, Cisco and BAE Systems, in collaboration with the Institute of Coding and British Computer Society; PhDs at 16 dedicated UK Research and Innovation AI Centres for Doctoral Training, as well as the Alan Turing AI fellowships.

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