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31 October, 2018 - 11:22 By Tony Quested

Microsoft in multi-million pound move to stop brain drain by backing AI research at Cambridge

Microsoft and Cambridge University have joined forces in a multimillion pound initiative to address the problem of ‘brain drain’ in AI and machine learning research.

As part of the Microsoft Research-Cambridge University Machine Learning Initiative, Microsoft will help increase AI and machine learning research capacity and capability at Cambridge by supporting visiting researchers, postdoctoral researchers, PhD students and interns from the UK, EU and beyond.

The new Initiative builds on more than two decades of collaboration between the University and Microsoft Research Cambridge and will be based in the University’s Department of Engineering. It will be formally announced today at the Microsoft Future Decoded Conference in London.

AI and machine learning have the potential to revolutionise how we interact with the world, but before these technologies can be widespread and used in industries such as healthcare, education and transportation, there are complex problems that need to be solved.

A shortage of skills in AI and machine-learning, particularly at PhD level and above, has led to many large tech companies recruiting from academia, leaving behind a shortage in research and teaching capacity at universities.

“By focusing on a two-way collaborative initiative for long-term growth, not short-term gain, we are taking a different approach to this problem. We are working with universities to build up AI and machine learning talent and research in the UK,” said Chris Bishop, Lab Director, Microsoft Research Cambridge.

“Our researchers regularly work together on projects with global impact, and this initiative will help to build on the already strong links between the University of Cambridge and Microsoft.”

Professor Andy Neely, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Enterprise and Business Relations at Cambridge, added: “Cambridge has a culture of ideas going back and forth between industry and academia, and this agreement with Microsoft is a prime example.

“By working together with industry on issues such as how best to use AI and machine learning, we can not only help solve complex issues for industry, but continue to support world-leading research and train the next generation of leaders in the field.”

Earlier this year the Government and the AI sector agreed a Sector Deal to further boost the UK’s global reputation as a leader in developing AI technologies, ensuring the UK remains a go-to destination for AI innovation and investment.

Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Jeremy Wright, said: “The UK is a beacon for international talent and at the forefront of emerging technologies because of the ideas developed in our world-leading universities.

“This new collaboration between Microsoft and Cambridge University will help us continue to develop home-grown AI talent and supports the government's modern Industrial Strategy and £1 billion AI sector deal. It is crucial that we do all we can to capitalise on our global advantage in this technology.”

Business Secretary Greg Clark added: “The UK has an unmatched heritage in AI and its application in emerging sectors and technologies. This partnership between one of the world’s leading universities and technology developer and Microsoft is a great example of collaboration between business and academia.

“The UK’s leading research and innovation base are driving parts of our modern Industrial Strategy supported with the biggest increase in public research and development investment in the UK’s history.”

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