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Department of Computer Science and Technology

Many congratulations to Prof Nic Lane who was today awarded a Chair in Emerging Technologies by the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng) for work to make the development of AI more democratic. To do this, he will be focusing on AI methods that are less centralised and more collaborative, and offer better privacy protection.

Nic – who is Professor of Machine Learning Systems here – will be using this prestigious award (worth £2.5 million over 10 years) on a project called DANTE. This aims to encourage wider and more active participation across society in the development and adoption of even the most advanced AI techniques.

Developing new AI methods will bring significant benefits to the UK population and help this country maintain its position as one of the world leaders in AI.

Prof Nic Lane

At the moment, he explains, "artificial intelligence (AI) is evolving towards a situation where only a handful of the largest companies in the world can participate. Given the importance of this technology to society this trajectory must be changed."

So the aim of his work will be "to invent, popularise and commercialise core new scientific breakthroughs that will enable AI technology in the future to be far more collaborative, distributed and open than it is today".

For this initiative, Nic is receiving one of the 2024 Chairs in Emerging Technologies. These are awarded by the RAEng every year (with funding from the UK Department for Science, Innovation and Technology) to "identify and provide long-term support to global research visionaries, developing emerging technology areas that have potential to deliver economic and social benefit to the UK".

Recipients are awarded up to £2.5 million over 10 years, not only to cover their employment and research costs for the Chair, but also to enable a sustained and strategic focus on advancing the technology to application.

In Nic's case, his project will focus on developing decentralised forms of AI that facilitate the collaborative study, invention, development and deployment of machine learning products and methods, primarily between collections of companies and organisations.  

"These methods will seek to be as easy to use as the centralised, monolithic AI systems of today – which is essential," he says. "But they should also offer high privacy and security protections, while requiring only low amounts of trust between participants.

"In this way, organisations will be able more freely to share data and ideas about advancing AI. This would be a step-change in the way AI is built and help level the playing field for all."

Other governments and UK institutions have had to partner with large companies to use the best available AI technology. Nic hopes that his mission will change this by helping the best AI technology to remain in the public sphere in such key areas as our healthcare, public policy, energy and transport infrastructure systems.

"This will bring significant benefits to the UK population," he says, "and developing such AI methods will help the UK maintain its position as one of the world leaders in AI.

"This is important work and I am extremely grateful to the Royal Academy of Engineering for supporting it."







Published by Rachel Gardner on Thursday 14th March 2024