Press release: Government backs next generation of scientists to transform healthcare and tackle climate change

  • 1,700 PhDs will advance discoveries in bioscience, tackle challenges like feeding the world’s growing population while helping people stay healthier, for longer
  • the investment is helping solve the UK’s Grand Challenges, by attracting and retaining the best talent and building a workforce fit for the future

The next generation of UK scientists have been backed by government today (Thursday 24 October) to develop the latest Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies that will transform how people live and work and help tackle some of the world’s most pressing challenges.

A combined government and industry investment of £370 million will deliver 2,700 new PhD places in biosciences and AI.

Of this, £200 million will fund 1,000 new PhD places over the next 5 years to study AI which could help diagnose diseases like cancer earlier and make industries, including aviation and automotive, more sustainable. The first 200 students will be studying at 14 universities across the country, working closely with 300 leading businesses, including AstraZeneca, Google, Rolls-Royce and NHS Trusts.

The students’ projects include:

  • working closely with the NHS to transform healthcare systems – helping address the world’s ageing society. This could improve diagnosis of life-threatening illnesses like cancer, accelerate the development and access to new drugs, design personalised medicine and improve care
  • helping to make buildings more energy-efficient, create new low-carbon materials, improve monitoring of climate temperatures and design greener transport, like planes, trains and cars

A further £170 million will fund 1,700 places to study PhDs in biosciences helping to tackle issues like feeding the world’s growing population and helping people stay healthier for longer.

The new PhD researchers will be working towards:

  • finding innovative ways to feed 9 billion people by 2050, and secure sustainable food production
  • developing renewable, low carbon sources of energy, transport fuels and chemicals to reduce dependency on fossil fuels
  • helping people stay healthier for longer as lifespans increase and society ages

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said:

The UK has educated, trained and developed some of the best scientists in the world – and we must continue to lead the world in AI and technology with our incredible talent and innovative breakthroughs.

That’s why we’re investing millions of pounds to create hundreds of new AI and bioscience PhDs, so new research and development can thrive here in the UK and solve the biggest challenges that face us – from climate change to better healthcare.

Science Minister Chris Skidmore said:

AI has the potential to boost productivity and enhance every industry across the economy, from developing new treatments for life-threatening diseases to tackling climate change. Today’s announcement is helping us solve the UK’s Grand Challenges by ensuring the UK is at the forefront of the latest technologies and opening-up British businesses to new opportunities.

The UK is a petri-dish for incredible talent and we’re passionate about nurturing the next generation of world-class scientists, so the UK remains at the forefront of research and innovation.

That is why we’re investing in the AI and bioscience PhD research. These critical areas will transform the UK economy and create the highly-skilled workforce we need for the future.

Digital Minister Matt Warman said:

The UK has a long-standing reputation for innovation. We are the birthplace of artificial intelligence and home to technology pioneers such as Alan Turing and Ada Lovelace. We are determined to see this continue.

Today we are announcing a bumper investment in skills training to strengthen our workforce and attract, nurture and retain the best talent so we can lead the world in research and development.

AI is already being used to improve lives by helping detect fraud quicker and diagnose diseases more accurately. With the brightest minds at the helm we will be able to explore this cutting-edge technology further.

The investment in AI innovation builds on the UK’s ongoing success as a global leader in AI technology. Today Science Minister Chris Skidmore also announced the first 5 AI Turing Fellowships, the UK’s national institute for AI and data science, designed to ensure the UK has the skills needed to make the most of artificial intelligence, and called for further top, international academic talent to join these researchers, with £37.5 million in further funding available.

The Fellows’ projects range from determining the impact of digital technologies such as social media on mental health; and building a sustainable aviation industry by helping the sector build faster, lighter and more environmentally friendly aircraft.

Sue Daley, associate director, technology and policy at techUK:

Creating a steady pipeline of tech talent is imperative to remaining a leader in the AI and data revolution. government-industry collaboration is crucial to addressing the UK’s current digital skills gap and we are proud to see industry demonstrating its commitment to developing the next generation of AI talent.

This is a brilliant step towards securing the UK’s AI future and we look forward to continuing to work with DCMS and the Office for AI to support their work in this area.

The government is investing £13 million in innovative Postgraduate programmes, so more people can develop fruitful careers in AI. The new AI conversion courses will allow 2,500 more people to study AI from backgrounds other than science or maths at undergraduate level. This also includes 1,000 new scholarships for people from underrepresented backgrounds, including women, ethnic minorities and low-income families.

Leading technology companies like Accenture, DeepMind, QuantumBlack and Amplyfi, are already sponsoring AI Masters students. The new courses will help build-up a highly skilled workforce in the UK and provide new opportunities for industry and universities to collaborate, ensuring new innovations are transforming industries.

Bioscience PhD case studies:

  • researchers at UCL and Imperial College London are developing a low-cost, easy-to-use arsenic sensor to test drinking water, in collaboration with a spin-out company.
  • a student at Liverpool-Newcastle-Durham co-authored 7 papers, including a first-author paper in Nature Communications on the promotion of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease by senescent hepatocytes, relevant to obesity and ageing. The paper was read over 30,000 times in the first week
  • a UCL student received a £10,000 prize and the International Canine Health Postgraduate Student Inspiration Award as part of the 2018 International Canine Health Awards (ICHA) in relation to her project investigating the relationship between dog breed genetic differences and susceptibility to pancreatic disease, in the hopes of developing new diagnostic and therapeutic methods
  • fundamental studies of cocoa butter crystallisation by 2 students at Leeds University had a direct impact on a project that is close to delivering a higher quality stability for chocolate.
  • a student from University of Birmingham gained a Wellcome Trust ISSF Fellowship following her PhD on chronobiology and the effect of sleep patterns on athletic performance and wellbeing

UK Research and Innovation Chief Executive, Professor Sir Mark Walport, said:

Talented people with ideas, energy and tenacity hold the key to unlocking the potential of Artificial Intelligence. The Turing AI Fellowships support this talent, build on the UK’s reputation for creativity and innovation and ensure we remain at the forefront of this transformative technology.

By attracting world-leading talent and developing the next generation of AI researchers and innovators, we will catalyse vital collaboration between academia, industry and government, delivering benefits that will be felt across society and the economy.

Professor Melanie Welham, UKRI-BBSRC’s Executive Chair said:

The success of the UK’s science sector and the consequent benefits to society and the economy relies on great researchers doing great work. Our Doctoral Training Partnerships have already supported the training of hundreds of early career scientists working at the cutting edge of biology and biotechnology.

By continuing to fund, through this significant £170 million investment, vital training of the next generation of researchers we will help ensure that the UK consolidates its position as world-leader in this crucial sector.

The first Turing AI Fellows

Neil Lawrence, University of Cambridge, Senior Turing AI Fellow

Neil will be focusing on machine learning systems design. He will work on the entire pipeline of AI system development, from data acquisition to decision making. He proposes an ecosystem that includes system monitoring for performance, interpretability and fairness. And he places these ideas in a wider context that also considers the availability, quality and ethics of data.

Neil has also recently been named DeepMind Professor of Machine Learning at the University of Cambridge and is a co-host of the podcast Talking Machines.

Tim Dodwell, University of Exeter, Turing AI Fellow

Tim’s work addresses the challenge of building a more sustainable aviation industry by spanning traditional academic disciplines. The aim of his fellowship is to develop novel AI methods which fuse high-performance mathematical simulations and traditional experimental data to build a virtual test pyramid. This will increase the confidence in making the ultimate engineering decision: “Is this plane safe to fly?”. The new methods will not only allow the aerospace industry to build faster, lighter, more sustainable aircraft for the future, but provide new applications across the high-value manufacturing sector and broader scientific communities.

Yarin Gal, University of Oxford, Turing AI Fellow

Yarin will work on democratising safe and robust AI. While already in use in industry and academia, major obstacles still stand in the way of deploying deep learning AI safely and responsibly. Yarin proposes to tackle these problems by building community challenges derived from real-world applications of AI in industry. With the community competing on these public challenges, new safe and robust AI tools will be developed for responsible use in industry.

Maria Liakata, University of Warwick, Turing AI Fellow

Maria’s work as a Turing AI Fellow utilises language data obtained from wide-spread use of digital technology such as social media as well as mobile phone data to develop novel natural language processing methods for automatically capturing changes in user behaviour over time. This work has direct applicability to mental health as it will help provide experts with evidence for personalised changes in mood and cognition from everyday use of digital technologies. Major outputs of this project are novel tools for personalised monitoring behaviour through language use and user generated content over time and the co-creation with clinical experts of new cost-effective tests to support monitoring and diagnosis.

Anna Scaife, University of Manchester, Turing AI Fellow

Anna’s Turing AI Fellowship focuses on AI for discovery in data intensive astrophysics. In this era of big data astrophysics, radio telescopes like the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) have data rates so large that the raw data cannot be stored, and even using the compressed data products requires a super-computer. Anna will develop new machine learning approaches to deal efficiently with these huge data volumes and address the question of how we can still allow for discovery when such processing is completely automated. In particular, she will focus on how we can incorporate knowledge from historical data into the machine learning for new experiments like the SKA without introducing biases that adversely affect the results.

Notes for editors

Funding breakdown:

  • funding for AI Centres for Doctoral Training involves £100 million government investment, £78 million from industry and £23 million committed by universities. Over the next 5 years, the Centres will train 1,000 PhD students
  • an additional £37.5 million for Turing AI Fellowships to recruit, retain and develop world-leading AI researchers to join the first wave, who received £8.5 million, also being announced today
  • new government investment of £13 million to build new AI conversion courses from 2020
  • £170 million government funding to support over 1,700 young scientists in cutting edge biology and biotechnology

Bioscience PhDs

The £170 million investment will be delivered by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and is just one element of its commitment to support future talent in research and innovation. Overall, UKRI supports around 15,000 doctoral students in UK universities, research institutes and businesses.

About the Postgraduation AI Conversion Courses

To help boost diversity in the sector £13 million is being made available to increase the number of skilled professionals in artificial intelligence and data science technologies over the next 3 years.

The Office for Students have launched a competition inviting universities and other higher education providers to develop and implement postgraduate conversion courses that will attract at least 2,500 graduates by 2023.

These innovative and flexible conversion courses will quickly upskill students – who may have originally studied non-STEM disciplines – in artificial intelligence and data science, and encourage a more diverse workforce.

The funding comprises £3 million for course development costs and £10 million for scholarships for students from backgrounds underrepresented in these industries, particularly female, disabled and black students.

The skills and talent package is a major milestone of the modern Industrial Strategy’s AI Sector Deal which was launched in April 2018.

Full list of AI Centres for Doctoral Training

  • UKRI AI Centre for Doctoral Training in Foundational Artificial Intelligence - UCL
  • UKRI Centre for Doctoral Training in AI-enabled Healthcare Systems - UCL
  • UKRI Centre for Doctoral Training in Environmental Intelligence: Data Science and AI for Sustainable Futures - University of Exeter
  • UKRI Centre for Doctoral Training in Natural Language Processing - University of Edinburgh
  • UKRI Centre for Doctoral Training in Artificial Intelligence and Music - Queen Mary University of London
  • UKRI Centre for Doctoral Training in Speech and Language Technologies and their Applications - University of Sheffield
  • UKRI Centre for Doctoral Training in Artificial Intelligence for Healthcare - Imperial College London
  • UKRI Centre for Doctoral Training in Accountable, Responsible and Transparent AI - University of Bath
  • UKRI Centre for Doctoral Training in Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Advanced Computing - Swansea University
  • UKRI Centre for Doctoral Training in Machine Intelligence for Nano-electronic Devices and Systems - University of Southampton
  • UKRI Centre for Doctoral Training in Biomedical Artificial Intelligence - University of Edinburgh
  • UKRI Centre for Doctoral Training in Social Intelligent Artificial Agents (SOCIAL) - University of Glasgow
  • UKRI Centre for Doctoral Training in Interactive Artificial Intelligence - University of Bristol
  • UKRI Centre for Doctoral Training in Application of Artificial Intelligence to the study of Environmental Risks (AI4ER) - University of Cambridge
  • UKRI Centre for Doctoral Training in Safe and Trusted Artificial Intelligence - King’s College London
  • UKRI Centre for Doctoral Training in Artificial Intelligence for Medical Diagnosis and Care - University of Leeds

About Turing AI Fellows

The next wave of Turing AI Fellowships will be delivered via UKRI