Exeter receives major funding boost to train next generation of Artificial Intelligence leaders

The University of Exeter has received a major funding boost to lead pioneering new research into using Artificial Intelligence to increase society’s resilience to changes in our environment.

UK Research and Innovation has announced today (February 21st) a £100 million investment to create 1,000 new research and business leaders to ensure the UK is a worldwide leader in AI.

As part of the funding, Exeter will establish a new Centre for Doctoral Training in Environmental Intelligence (EI), led by Professor Gavin Shaddick.

Called the UKRI Centre for Doctoral Training in Environmental Intelligence: Data Science and AI for Sustainable Futures, the Centre seeks to use AI to help create a better understanding of the complex interactions between the natural world and climate change, with human social, health, and economic systems. The aim is provide information that can used by policy-makers, businesses and communities to not only make better informed decision-making, but also increase our understanding of changing environmental challenges both today, and in the future.

Professor Shaddick said: “Many of the most important problems we face today are related to the environment – climate change, healthy oceans, water security, clean air, biodiversity loss, and resilience to extreme events all play a crucial role in determining our health, wealth, safety and future development.

“Developing a clear understanding of the challenges and identifying potential solutions, both for ourselves and our planet, requires high quality, accessible, timely and reliable data to support informed decision making. Environmental Intelligence is the use of AI to extract meaningful insights from the vast amount of environmental data that is available, from many different sources and from all over the world.”

“EI also has another very important role to play in facilitating change through integration of cutting edge AI technology in energy, water, transport, agricultural and other environmentally-related systems and by empowering individuals, organisations and businesses through the provision of personalized information that will support behavioural change.”

Speaking at the launch of the new centres, Business Secretary Greg Clark said: “The UK has long been a nation of innovators and today’s package of AI skills and talent investment will help nurture leading UK and international talent to ensure we retain our world-beating reputation in research and development. 

“Artificial intelligence has great potential to drive up productivity and enhance every industry throughout our economy, from more effective disease diagnosis to building smart homes. Today’s announcement is our modern Industrial Strategy in action, investing in skills and talent to drive high skilled jobs, growth and productivity across the UK.” 

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.”

AI has the potential to further transform the way we work and live, allowing complex tasks to be completed quickly and useful insights to be gleaned from large quantities of information.  

The new UK-wide investment will sustain a pipeline of talent and ensure that the UK remains at the forefront of emerging technologies, supporting the commitment in the government’s AI Sector Deal.

Also announced today are 200 new AI Masters places at UK universities and up to five new research fellows, created in collaborated with the Alan Turing Institute to retain and attract top AI talent in UK academic institutions.  

UK Research and Innovation Chief Executive, Professor Sir Mark Walport,said: “Artificial intelligence is a disruptive technology in a range of sectors, enabling new products and services and transforming data science. It allows us to develop new approaches to challenges as diverse as early disease diagnosis and climate change.    

“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.”