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25 February, 2019 - 14:08 By Tony Quested

Cambridge leads environmental risk hub in £200m AI power play

Cambridge University is running a new centre applying Artificial Intelligence to the study of environmental risks as part of a £200 million initiative to make the UK a global leader in deployment of AI technology.

Professor Simon Redfern will lead the UKRI Centre for Doctoral Training in Cambridge as the Government partners with industrial giants such as AstraZeneca in Cambridge, Google, Microsoft and Rolls-Royce to create 1,000 new research and business leaders for the AI power play.

This new generation of PhD students will use AI technology to improve healthcare, tackle climate change and create new commercial opportunities, thanks to a £100m investment from UK Research and Innovation. 

They will be trained at 16 new Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs) based at 14 UK universities with 300 partners. Project partners are investing £78m in cash or in-kind contributions and partner universities are committing a further £23m, resulting in an overall investment of more than £200 million.

Regarding the Cambridge hub, AI will transform our ability to understand, monitor and predict the environmental risks associated with population and economic growth, which place increasing demands on a finite planet. 

Climate change and ever more complex urban lifestyles are amplifying our vulnerability to floods, earthquake, and volcanic eruptions, while biodiversity plunges. 

Yet AI methods, applied to new and ever larger data sets, can tell us more than we have ever known or understood about the world around us. This programme will train a new generation of innovation leaders to tackle the challenges faced by societies living in the face of environmental risk. It will develop new methods to exploit AI’s potential to analyse complex environmental data and thus help plan sustainable pathways to the future.

Business Secretary Greg Clark said: “The UK has long been a nation of innovators and this 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.” 

Digital Secretary Jeremy Wright added: “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.”

• Simon Redfern is professor of Mineral Physics at the University of Cambridge, Department of Earth Sciences. He has been chair of the NERC Cambridge Earth System Science DTP as well as being a director of studies at Jesus College.

Simon Redfern. Image courtesy of Jesus College

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