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Alan Turing Institute gets down to work

The Alan Turing Institute, named after the Second World War Bletchley Park cryptanalyst, is getting down to work with the announcement of its first new director and a raft of partnerships

The Alan Turing Institute has announced its new director, confirmed £10 million of research funding from Lloyd’s Register Foundation, a research partnership with GCHQ, a collaboration with Cray and EPSRC, and its first research activities.

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne announced an investment of £42 million to launch the institute in his March 2014 budget.

In March of this year, the universities of Cambridge, Edinburgh, Oxford, UCL, Warwick and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) declared a joint-venture agreement to formally create the institute. Each university is putting up £5 million.

The agreement was sealed in July, and the institute is now “fully constituted” and has begun operations. It is headquartered at the British Library.

The Alan Turing Institute has also accepted a formally approved offer of £10 million of research funding from the board of the Lloyd’s Register Foundation.

Andrew Blake: first director

The institute has appointed “computer vision” specialist Professor Andrew Blake as its first director. He will join in October.

Blake said: “The vision of bringing together the mathematical and computer scientists from the country’s top universities to develop the new discipline of data science, through an independent institute with strategic links to commerce and industry, is very compelling.” 

Blake is currently a Microsoft distinguished scientist and laboratory director of Microsoft Research UK. He is an honorary professor in information engineering at the University of Cambridge.

He originally read mathematics and electrical sciences at Trinity College, Cambridge and, after a year as a Kennedy Scholar at MIT and time in the electronics industry, he took a PhD in artificial intelligence at the University of Edinburgh in 1983.

Blake joined Microsoft Research in Cambridge to found the Computer Vision Group in 1999.

For more about the Alan Turing Institute

The institute will work with Bletchley Park’s successor organisation, GCHQ, on training and research in data-analytical methods that may be applied in open access and commercial environments.

GCHQ director Robert Hannigan said: “GCHQ is delighted to be a partner of the Alan Turing Institute and have the opportunity to help maintain Alan Turing’s legacy for generations to come. Alan Turing spent much of his life working with data, both during and after the war, and it is a fitting tribute that his name is associated with an institute that will dedicate itself to becoming the world leader in the analysis and application of big data and algorithm research.”

The institute will also collaborate with US supercomputer maker Cray Inc and EPSRC to “exploit a next-generation analytics capability on a supercomputer for scientific research, Archer”.

Philip Nelson, chief executive of EPSRC, said: “EPSRC is a stakeholder in both the Alan Turing Institute and the Archer system, which provides the largest supercomputer in the UK for scientific research.

“Both of these programmes aim to bring breakthrough research to the UK and, with this close relationship, we will transform our Archer supercomputer into the largest data analytics platform in the world.”

Howard Covington, chairman of the Alan Turing Institute, said: “The enthusiasm and commitment of the founding partners have enabled the institute to make rapid progress. We will now turn to building the institute’s research activities. 

“We are delighted to welcome Andrew Blake as our new director and to begin strategic relationships with the Lloyd’s Register Foundation and GCHQ. Our co-operation with Cray Inc is one of several relationships with major infrastructure and service providers that will be agreed.”

Jo Johnson, minister for universities and science, said: “The Alan Turing Institute has set off on a speedy course to secure new lasting partnerships and bring together expertise from across the UK that will help secure our place as a world leader in areas such as big data, computer science and advanced mathematics.”

The institute will soon be seeking applications from postdoctoral researchers, it was said.

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