The government has today announced up to 200 AI Masters places at UK universities and opportunities for 1,000 students to undertake PhDs at 16 dedicated UK Research and Innovation AI Centres for Doctoral Training. The programme is the first of its kind in the UK and sees a cohort of technology organisations, including Cisco, offer work-based placements across the UK.

It is also supporting up to five AI research Fellowships with the Alan Turing Institute. These will be industry funded but also supported by an £110m government investment.

Project-based learning will be key to effective training for AI post-grads, says Jos Martin, Senior Engineering Manager at MathWorks, who wrote in support of a successful bid from the University of Cambridge to be involved in the programme:

“As AI becomes more prevalent across industries, there is an urgent need to grow the skills needed to develop AI systems and design deep networks that will serve businesses. However, we need to be sure that students are being taught in the most appropriate manner as this will ultimately shape the success of the government’s investment.

“Practical, project-based learning is key. These post-graduates need to gain hands-on experience using software and deep learning tools that are used in industry, so they can apply their learnings into the real world of work. Otherwise, these post-graduates simply won’t be prepared to deliver AI projects once they graduate, which could delay vital AI work in sectors such as healthcare, energy, manufacturing and more.

“We are only starting to scratch the surface in terms of exploring AI’s potential and all its use cases. By feeding the industry with more and more talent, we will be able to realise the technology’s full potential. But current investment is not enough. We need to see continued investment from parliament as well as business to inspire the next generation of AI leaders and facilitate research and innovation during these crucial testing and development stages.”

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.

In reaction to the news today that the Government is planning on investing £115m into funding postgraduate courses in AI, Parry Malm, CEO of Phrasee, which uses artificial intelligence for natural language generation, looks at why the government’s views might be too narrow-minded.

Parry Malm, CEO & Founder, Phrasee, said:

“We welcome the Government’s decision to put funding toward postgraduate courses in artificial intelligence. The UK is, and has always been, a global hub of innovation, and investing in the next generation is a sure-fire way to maintain its position as a world leader. However, this is only one side of the coin.

"We need to acknowledge that technology industries are not exclusive to those studying hard skills. What we need is a generation of people who have the softer skills to adapt and be agile; because of the way our technology is progressing, if you’re an expert in one specific technical skill today, by tomorrow it might very well be obsolete.”

Martin Linstrom, Managing Director UK&I, IPsoft, said:

“While it is fantastic the news that the government is looking to boost the next generation of artificial intelligence (AI) skills and talent by unveiling new industry-funded AI Masters and 16 dedicated Centres at universities, it’s important that we don’t present AI industry career opportunities as limited to those with these technical expertise.

More than one fifth of 16 year-olds want to work in technology, citing the fast moving and exciting nature of the sector and its interesting jobs. To convert this passion into a much-needed workforce, it’s our responsibility to ensure that no matter what their specialism – whether technical, languages or the social sciences – they understand that there are roles and opportunities for them.

“Indeed, last year’s WEF study on the future of jobs highlighted how job profiles have changed rapidly and will continue to do so thanks to intelligent automation. In fact, the 71% of work currently done by humans will go down to just 58%.This will also be true of the technology industry – even in AI, where many machines are increasingly teaching themselves. That’s why it’s key that the government and wider industry promote the broader skillsets needed for the advancement of the AI industry – particularly around creativity, analytical skills and emotional intelligence – that will be critically supported by more diverse expertise and experience.”

Matt Eckersall, regional director, EMEA West, SUSE, said:

“The proliferation of AI is an inevitable consequence of years of ongoing research, refinement and application. The UK government’s plans to fund postgraduate students that want to study AI is the latest recognition of the potential benefits which can be gained through advancing this technology further.

“It’s no exaggeration to say that AI is set to change the world – and already it is making a positive impact on industries such as healthcare, automotive, gaming and manufacturing. Underpinning all of this change is the programmers who work behind the scenes, using High Performance Computing (HPC) to build and power AI and deep machine learning applications. As more use cases for AI-powered HPC emerge to solve critical problems, this technology will fundamentally change how programmers approach computing. For this reason, they are having to develop new skill sets and thought processes to keep up with rapid progress in AI.

“As investment in this space increases and the technology advances, educating and identifying the next generation of talent early, at a postgraduate level, is crucial. Essentially, AI is only as good as the people behind it. Providing these programmers with the right training to build and utilise AI and ML applications in the most beneficial way possible will be imperative for positioning the UK at the forefront of technological innovation.”

Tom Kneen, Sales Business Development Manager, UK & Ireland at Cisco comments on what the announcement means for the UK tech sector and Cisco’s commitment to upskilling in the UK:

“Today’s announcement underpins both the UK government and technology industry’s commitment to upskilling digital talent in in the UK, particularly with AI and machine learning. The programme reiterates Cisco’s belief in the need for industry-led collaboration to deliver effective education programmes, that ensure current and future employees have both the necessary skills and business acumen to succeed in the technology sector.

"Cisco is part of a wave of technology companies who are on the front foot with AI. We understand that intelligent technologies will play a major role in helping shape the future of work, and that making the most of them requires a willingness to collaborate on digital skills development. The Masters AI programme is the latest initiative Cisco is involved in as part of this commitment, having also launched an AI centre in collaboration with University College London, and a partnership with the University of Edinburgh to help drive AI and data innovation as part of the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal.

"Digital skills education and development is a collective responsibility, and only by working together can we adequately support future workforces and cement the UK’s position as a global tech leader.”

One thousand new research and business leaders will be created to ensure the UK leads the global revolution in Artificial Intelligence (AI).

This new generation of PhD students will use AI technology to improve healthcare, tackle climate change and create new commercial opportunities, thanks to a £100 million investment from UK Research and Innovation, announced today, Thursday 21 February 2019.

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

The investment has been welcomed by government ministers.

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.

One example is in healthcare, where AI is being developed to analyse information and images, such as X-ray scans, to pick up abnormalities at an earlier stage and ensure that patients can receive life-saving treatment.

The 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.

Many of the UKRI Centres for Doctoral Training in Artificial Intelligence have relevance to EPSRC's remit. A full list of these CDTs is available at the UKRI website.

UK Research and Innovation is a new body which works in partnership with universities, research organisations, businesses, charities, and government to create the best possible environment for research and innovation to flourish. We aim to maximise the contribution of each of our component parts, working individually and collectively. We work with our many partners to benefit everyone through knowledge, talent and ideas.

Operating across the whole of the UK with a combined budget of more than £7 billion, UK Research and Innovationbrings together the Arts and Humanities Research Council; Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council; Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council; Economic and Social Research Council; Innovate UK; Medical Research Council; Natural Environment Research Council; Research England; and Science and Technology Facilities Council.

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