21 February 2019

UCL has been awarded £12.6m to enable a new generation of PhD students to create new artificial intelligence (AI) technology, transforming healthcare and creating new commercial opportunities.

UCL Quad

The funding from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) will be used to establish two new Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs) at UCL.

One CDT specialising in ‘Foundational Artificial Intelligence’ will be led by Professor David Barber, Professor of Machine Learning (UCL Computer Science) in collaboration with the Gatsby Computational Neuroscience Unit and the UCL Institute for Cognitive Neuroscience.

The CDT will be supported by a large body of industry partners to help the UCL team create an exciting platform to launch the students’ careers as scientists or AI entrepreneurs.

“As we become increasingly reliant on automation, it is vital that the UK remains at the forefront of developing and exploiting AI for the benefit of society, science and industry. For AI systems to progress beyond existing tools, they must be able to handle vast cultural, physical and emotional knowledge,” said Professor Barber.

“We’ll work with many leading tech firms to help address this challenge and expand on industry investment in AI by training students to be leaders in creating new AI technologies that transform society for the better.”

A second CDT focusing on ‘AI-enabled Healthcare Systems’ will be led by Professor Geraint Rees, Professor of Cognitive Neurology (UCL Life Sciences), and will involve  three partner NIHR Biomedical Research Centres at UCLH, Moorfields Eye Hospital and Great Ormond Street Hospital.

The CDT will also be supported by numerous commercial partners, including Benevolent AI, along with the Whittington and Royal Free Hospitals and Public Health England.

We will not only apply AI to healthcare but also apply healthcare to AI. This will drive innovation in the AI field while also using AI to transform healthcare by extracting more information from patient data to accelerate diagnosis and improve patient outcomes, said Professor Rees.

“Graduates will work in the NHS and receive training from world-leading academics who combine clinical with AI expertise and have commercial connections. This integration will enable rapid real-world piloting of AI on hardware embedded in hospitals and GP practices.”

The announcement was made by the Government today as part of a wider initiative to sustain a pipeline of talent to ensure that the UK remains at the forefront of emerging technologies and the global revolution in AI.

For this, £200m has been invested by the Government, project partners and universities to fund 1000 new research and business leaders.

They will be trained at 16 new CDTs based at 14 UK universities with 300 partners, including AstraZeneca, Google and Rolls-Royce, and NHS trusts.

“To maintain its leadership in AI, the UK will need a new generation of researchers, business leaders and entrepreneurs equipped with new skills. Working with partners across academia and industry, the centres announced today will provide the foundations for these future leaders,” said UK Research and Innovation Chief Executive, Professor Sir Mark Walport.

In addition, 200 new AI Masters places have been announced at UK universities along with up to five new research fellows, created in collaboration with the Alan Turing Institute, to retain and attract top AI talent in UK academic institutions.

Digital Secretary Jeremy Wright, said: “The UK is not only the birthplace to the father of artificial intelligence, Alan Turing, but we are leading the way on work to ensure AI innovation has ethics at its core.

“We want to keep up this momentum and cement our reputation as pioneers in AI.  Working with world class academic institutions and industry we will be able to train the next generation of top-tier AI talent and maintain the UK’s reputation as a trailblazer in emerging technologies.”