The annual report can be viewed below (full screen for best experience) or you can read on to see highlights.
1.1 Chair’s report
In this very difficult time of pandemic, it has never been more important to demonstrate the Institute’s commitment to the exchange of research and scientific ideas nationally and globally.
I am proud of our response, which has seen the Turing’s community rise swiftly to meet the urgent need for scientific innovation to tackle the spread and effects of COVID-19. We have quickly worked in tandem with local and national government on new research projects to support the national effort. Our business team did a remarkable job in ensuring a seamless transition to remote working right across the Institute.
This year the Institute has, once again, been at the forefront of exciting developments in data science and AI in the UK and beyond. Despite concerns about Brexit and uncertainty about research funding, the Turing remains committed to enabling the UK to exercise leadership in AI and data science research. Our annual report highlights how the Turing is working with a range of partners to achieve far-reaching impact.
The Institute continues to nurture and grow new projects, partnerships and collaborative research with universities, industry, government and third sector organisations. This year has seen the initiation of significant new projects with the Financial Conduct Authority, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the NHS, Ofsted and Alzheimer’s Research UK, among many others.
The Institute has been building on its record of success to explore new research opportunities for innovation and impact across the UK. We have been actively supporting work to enhance the UK’s pipeline of data science talent and to ensure that the UK is at the forefront of emerging technologies.
The new AI Fellowships are an example of how we are work with government to support a diverse AI research community and enable the UK to create a sustainable AI research and innovation ecosystem. The Institute is uniquely positioned to share best practice and help achieve strategic alignment around the data skills gap and we want to build further on this strength in future.
“The Turing works hard to be a truly national institute. This year has seen us increasing our engagement with institutions beyond our thirteen partner universities. We have formed an exceptionally strong and thriving network of academic institutions that makes a vital contribution to data science and AI.”
The Turing works hard to be a truly national institute. This year has seen us increasing our engagement with institutions beyond our thirteen partner universities. We have formed an exceptionally strong and thriving network of academic institutions that makes a vital contribution to data science and AI through research projects, data study groups, open calls, workshops, seminars, and events. The number and range of students, from across the UK, applying to our enrichment scheme has also continued to grow.
The Turing has continued to build its nationwide engagement programme. This ranges from events on specialist topics, through dynamic ‘Data Debates’ to engage the public with our work, to our prestigious series of Turing Lectures. This year, we were prevented from delivering our first national showcase of AI in the UK by COVID-19, but we are looking forward to this taking place in the spring of 2021.
Finally, I would like both to congratulate our chief executive, Sir Adrian Smith, on his appointment as President Elect of The Royal Society, and to thank him for his continuing commitment to the Institute, notwithstanding the pressures of this new role. I also want to thank Adrian, the Board of Trustees and all our Turing colleagues for their work during this exceptionally challenging year.
Howard Covington, Chair of the Board of Trustees, The Alan Turing Institute
1.2 Institute Director’s report
Data science and AI are under the microscope, thrust into the public eye by the global pandemic.
Current national concerns have served to confirm the Institute’s key role in ensuring data science and AI are used to impact on our society and economy positively. There has been a significant response from the Turing community to the call from national government and local organisations to help tackle the spread of the virus. The Institute is at the forefront of this response through projects such as DECOVID and Odysseus (alongside the Greater London Authority and others).
During this crisis, the challenges associated with data science, data modelling, ethics and privacy have been apparent. There is now a wider recognition of the importance of collecting, organising and manipulating complex data at scale and the associated social, behavioural and ethical issues raised.
The Institute’s data safe havens are crucial to unlocking the potential of data science. By creating safe and secure computing environments, the Institute contributes to transformative impacts in health, finance, engineering and science.
The Institute also has a vital role in pushing the boundaries of science for public good. I am delighted that we are leading research to improve understanding and explore how AI can help to combat modern slavery. Additionally, our emerging digital identity project will explore inclusive and responsible foundational identification systems which could be transformative for the most vulnerable members of society.
“There is now a wider recognition of the importance of collecting, organising and manipulating complex data at scale and the associated social, behavioural and ethical issues raised.”
Inequality is a blight on society. We have continued to make strides to address these issues within our worlds of data science and AI and have established a set of values and behaviours that we expect our community to demonstrate: trust, inclusivity, respect, leadership, transparency, and integrity. These values permeate our work as researchers throughout our UK network collaborate across disciplines and beyond boundaries to generate impact in both theoretical development and in application to real-world problems.
Through Theory and Methods Challenges, the Institute has stimulated foundational research across the Turing’s university partner network. This represents our first steps to formalise theoretical foundation research work at the Institute and also demonstrates an opportunity to create further UK and international impact.
In terms of translation of research, our Research Engineering Group continues to make a significant contribution to pulling through research to impactful applications. This model of working ensures that the tools they develop are applicable to a wide range of research areas.
With the combined challenges of Brexit and coronavirus, the UK economy faces uncertain times. It is essential that we develop and nurture appropriate data science and AI skills. The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council’s (EPSRC) is working with us to ensure the future sustainability of the Turing as the national centre for AI and data science research, delivering positive benefits for the UK.
The Turing is a truly national institute that I am proud to lead with the support of the Board, my colleagues and our community. It has been a great personal honour to be elected as President of the Royal Society from this coming November, but my commitment to the Institute remains and I look forward to maintaining and building on our successes over the coming years.
Adrian Smith, Institute Director and Chief Executive, The Alan Turing Institute