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by Jenni Davidson
27 November 2020
Two Scottish scientists to receive share of £20m UK Government funding for research on artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence - Image credit: Adobe Stock

Two Scottish scientists to receive share of £20m UK Government funding for research on artificial intelligence

Two Scottish scientists will receive a share of £20m UK Government funding for cutting edge research in artificial intelligence (AI). 

Dr Antonio Hurtado from the University of Strathclyde and Dr Jeff Dalton from the University of Glasgow have been named Turing AI Acceleration fellows, along with 13 other researchers from across the UK.

Hurtado has been awarded £1.16m for his work on data, while Dalton will receive £1.59m for his research on digital assistants.

The aim of the Turing AI Acceleration Fellowships is to give some of the UK’s most promising AI researchers the resources to accelerate their research and scale up their innovations for the real world.

The fellowships are part of the UK Government’s ambition to establish the UK as a world leader in AI.

Hurtado is looking 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 that 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.

Dalton is working to revolutionise 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 such as researching the causes of climate change or cooking a perfect Christmas dinner.

Dalton’s team will be developing novel deep learning-based methods capable of supporting long-running, more natural conversations.

This will enable more explainable machine reasoning, simplified assistant development and interactive agents capable of learning to ask questions and offer feedback.

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 maximise impact. 

“Our goal is to democratise 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.”

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.”

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.”

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