Annual Report 2020-21

An exceptional year


The annual report can be viewed below (full screen for best experience) or you can read on to see highlights.

The full report can also be downloaded as a PDF, or can be viewed in plain text as a Word document or as a text file

1.1 Chair’s report

Howard Covington

The work of our data science and AI community, alongside our partners in industry, third sector and government, has once again been evident across many domains. This sense of collaboration was demonstrated at our highly successful first national showcase AI UK. You will see in this year’s annual report examples of how the Institute is collaborating by predicting sea ice loss, mapping the UK’s solar panels, and even developing underground farms. The Alan Turing Institute has also been proud to play its part in the response to the devastating COVID-19 pandemic.

The Institute continues to drive the kind of research and innovation that will be vital to the future of our environment and our economy. This includes areas such as digital twins, which are providing crucial insights by bridging the gap between data and actionable intelligence. I was delighted to see the launch of the Institute’s first start-up, Quaisr, with its own approach to digital twin technology.

“The Institute continues to drive the kind of research and innovation that will be vital to the future of our environment and our economy.”

This has been an especially testing time for the higher education sector and I particularly wish to thank our network of universities for their support. This year we have seen two universities running Data Study Groups in collaboration with the Institute. The launch of a new research showcase series that engages partners from across our network, and the rapid growth of our interest groups, are both powerful examples of the Institute’s ability to convene and connect some of the brightest and best minds.

The Institute is uniquely placed to leverage its strategic position and convening power, and to help ensure the UK delivers on its commitment to scale up AI research, development and innovation. As the national institute, we relish every opportunity to respond dynamically to the rapidly changing world around us. 

I would like to thank Adrian Smith and the Board of Trustees for their invaluable direction. I am also grateful to all of our partners and our Turing colleagues for their support and hard work this year.

Howard Covington, Chair of the Board of Trustees


1.2 Institute Director’s report

Adrian Smith

In this exceptional year we have demonstrated the scientific value of convening and collaborating. Our annual report for 2020/2021 highlights how we have been able to harness regional, national and international partnerships to help tackle issues from COVID-19 to climate change.

The terrible effects of the pandemic on public health and human life have sadly continued, but in response the pace of new scientific insights has been incredible. Our researchers have made important improvements to the accuracy of the NHS app, developed algorithms to ensure social distancing in London’s streets, and combined NHS datasets to help answer clinical questions about the effects of COVID-19. 

Working alongside government and regulators on issues from misinformation to explaining AI decisions, our researchers continue to make a vital contribution to how data science and AI can improve policy-making. It has never been more apparent that our Institute has a critical role in pushing the boundaries of science for public good. Climate change is one of the biggest challenges of our time and I am proud that our researchers are using the power of data science and artificial intelligence to better understand and respond to the threat it poses to the planet and our way of life. 

“The terrible effects of the pandemic on public health and human life have sadly continued, but in response the pace of new scientific insights has been incredible.”

We are of course part of a complex and thriving AI ecosystem. This was evident at our first-ever national showcase, AI UK, where the AI community explored issues such as ethics, diversity, shocks and resilience, and AI skills. Earlier this year, the government announced its intention to publish a national AI strategy. This followed the release of the AI Roadmap, which alongside the AI Council’s survey and further stakeholder engagement will help inform the Office for Artificial Intelligence’s national AI strategy later this year. This will give all those operating in the nation’s AI ecosystem a strategic pathway to future success despite the uncertainty of our times.  

This year we saw a positive mid-term review by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) of our AI for science and government (ASG) research programme led by Alan Wilson, Director of Special Projects. ASG was established in 2018 with a grant from the UKRI Strategic Priorities Fund, which Alan was instrumental in securing. Alan stood down from ASG in March 2021 and I would like to thank him for his key role in the evolution of the programme and his continued contribution to the Institute since its inception. Read more about the impact of our ASG programme in our research highlights.

Despite the many challenges, I am pleased to lead the Institute with the peerless support of the Board and my colleagues. I would like to thank our community for its endeavours and resolve during this exceptional year.

Adrian Smith, Institute Director and Chief Executive