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Bristol scientists supercharge artificial intelligence in £80m national initiative

8 February 2024
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Leading mathematicians, engineers and computer scientists at the University of Bristol have joined a new national mission to realise this potential, taking AI applications to uncharted heights in various settings, spanning healthcare, pandemics, cities, finance and the environment.

Thanks to £21 million funding from the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the University is setting up two national AI research hubs to develop key research, expertise, and innovations which will make AI an even more versatile, trustworthy tool.

The AI for Collective Intelligence (AI4CI) hub will generate new AI to leverage intelligence that is distributed across populations of people and devices in order to improve both individual and collective decision making. This already occurs naturally when people share, compare, and filter information, but new AI offers the possibility to harness this kind of collective intelligence at scale, delivering support and guidance tailored for individuals and national agencies alike.

For example, identifying trends within the experiences of diabetes patients could be used to provide bespoke anticipatory guidance direct to patients via smart agents. There is also potential for innovations to be deployed to improve NHS policies for supporting patients with appropriate treatments and technologies. This would enable patients to manage their own condition more effectively, helping them avoid acute episodes that require hospitalisation. Key challenges include: identifying patterns that are robust, anticipating and understanding changes in a patient’s circumstances, and making useful personalised recommendations, which also ensure privacy, safety, fairness, and trust.

AI also has capacity to assist during major threats to public health. For instance, the Hub’s Pandemic Resilience theme will reconsider the modelling and analyses undertaken during the Covid-19 pandemic, exploring how new AI approaches could improve centralised policy making and empower individual decisions during a future pandemic.

Hub Director Professor Seth Bullock, Toshiba Chair in Data Science at the University of Bristol, said: “Our Hub's main aim is to put useful AI in the hands of regular people, especially those who might otherwise not benefit from it. Modern AI is driven by huge amounts of data collected from us and Collective Intelligence research is about enabling us to benefit directly from the AI systems that data fuels. We can’t wait to get started.”

Smart energy grids, self-driving car networks, drone swarms, and stock markets all deploy Artificial Intelligence (AI) to improve automation and efficiency. But there is still huge scope to make such systems more reliable and secure.

So far, most AI research has focused on individual systems designed for a single purpose. The INFORMED-AI hub will explore whether multiple interacting AIs generate greater intelligence and improved performance in various real-life situations.

Experts will use information theory, developing theoretical foundations and algorithmic approaches, to explore the behaviour of various AI networks. Trustworthiness and guarding against malicious bots are key focus areas. Historically, such techniques have proven instrumental in developing mobile networks, the internet and communication in Space.

Machine learning, cybersecurity, statistics, and quantum systems will be harnessed to find the most effective ways to manage large datasets and different AI models. Ultimately this will improve both reliability and privacy.

Hub Director Sidharth Jaggi, Professor of Information and Coding Theory at the University of Bristol, said: “This research will not only help to address our current concerns about integrating AI technologies, but the fundamental mathematical work will be applicable to research that follows. We are pleased to be following in the footsteps of Alan Turing and Claude Shannon and we hope to likewise influence AI research and development for decades to come.”

The Bristol-led hubs are among nine in total nationwide: three progressing mathematics and computational research crucial to AI and six exploring AI for science, engineering, and real-world data. Bristol experts will be working with various hubs across the UK, including Lancaster and Edinburgh.  

Professor Evelyn Welch, Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of Bristol, said: “This is fantastic news for the University and the city at large, reaffirming our position at the very forefront of the AI revolution. AI is transforming the world we know, performing vital roles ranging from combating cyber threats to improving energy efficiency.

“These new national hubs will discover and develop exciting breakthroughs in diverse fields, which touch our everyday lives. It is fitting two of the hubs will be based at Bristol, as we’re also excited to be welcoming Isambard-AI, the UK’s most powerful supercomputer, this summer. I look forward to following the progress of this world-leading research and expertise.”

A further ten scoping studies have been funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), also part of UKRI, to help define responsible AI across education, policing, and the creative industries.

Professor Charlotte Deane, Executive Chair of EPSRC, said: “Artificial intelligence is already transforming our world. EPSRC supports world-leading research to unlock its potential and ensure it is developed and used in an ethical and responsible way. Long-term research funding has led to revolutionary advancements that have made AI a powerful tool for many applications.

“These hubs will deliver revolutionary AI innovations and tools in sectors from healthcare to energy, smart cities and environment. They will achieve this by solving key challenges and improving our understanding of AI helping to drive the increased productivity and economic growth promised by this technology.”  

The hubs, led by eight universities but working nationwide, seek to ensure the UK retains a leading role in AI research, innovation, and ethical deployment.

Bristol experts at INFORMED-AI will be working in partnership with the University of Cambridge, Imperial College London, and Durham University, together with industry partners. The AI4CI Hub is a collaboration involving the Universities of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff, Exeter, Glasgow, and Ulster and University College London (UCL).

Minister for AI Viscount Camrose said: “The investment we’re pouring into these new projects is only possible as a result of our pro-innovation approach to AI. The AI Regulation White Paper consultation response we’ve set out today will see us forging ahead with that plan, driving forward the next wave of brilliant AI innovations.

“These hubs will nurture new, cutting-edge breakthroughs, from healthcare treatments and more power efficient electronics to machine learning and chemical discovery.

“New projects being delivered by BRAID will also help to define responsible AI in key sectors such as education, policing, and the creative industries, ensuring public trust in the technology as we continue to harness its capabilities.”    


Nicky Godding is editor of The Business Magazine. Before her journalism career, she worked mainly in public relations moving into writing when she was invited to launch Retail Watch, a publication covering retail and real estate across Europe.

After some years of constant travelling, she tucked away her passport and concentrated on business writing, co-founding a successful regional business magazine. She has interviewed some of the UK’s most successful entrepreneurs who have built multi-million-pound businesses and reported on many science and technology firsts.

She reports on the region’s thriving business economy from start-ups, family businesses and multi-million-pound corporations, to the professionals that support their growth and the institutions that educate the next generation of business leaders.

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