On 23 and 24 March, the Turing hosted AI UK 2021, our showcase of the latest research in artificial intelligence, data science, and machine learning. The conference brought together leading academics, specialists, and industry leaders, with the aim of addressing national issues through panels and conversations, sparking new connections and collaborations across sectors, and showcasing the UK’s leading global role in AI research. AI UK was supported by the Office for Artificial Intelligence and The Economist.

As well as being the largest event we have ever hosted, AI UK was the culmination of a year spent learning the lessons of how best to engage virtually. Hosting on the event platform Hopin for the first time, we were able to deliver our most diverse and accessible event yet, and with a truly global reach.  

We were joined by 1257 unique attendees in 38 different countries (397 of whom joined from overseas), who across all the sessions constituted 13,500 views, while tweets containing the event hashtag #AIUK were seen 5.28 million times, and interacted with 1.28 million times.

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We were honoured to be joined by more than 100 fantastic speakers, discussing a wealth of topical subjects based on themes from the UK AI Council’s Roadmap. Given the sheer breadth of subjects covered, it is difficult to pick out highlights, but a few in particular received an overwhelmingly positive response from our delegates.  

Doing better in data science

A panel discussion on this theme was led by Anjali Mazumder, the Turing AI and Justice and Human Rights Theme Lead. The panel proposed going beyond diversity as merely a moral obligation, but rather viewing it as a minimum standard for worthwhile research, and fundamental to the scientific method. As Shakir Mohammed, Senior Research Scientist at DeepMind put it, “diversity must be part of what we mean by scientific excellence”. One attendee commented “attending this conference where ethics, inclusivity [and] trust…are all discussed and considered vital issues, gives me hope.”

Technology against climate change

As the UK assumes the presidency of the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in 2021, Howard Covington, Chair of the Turing Board of Trustees, gave an authoritative and sobering talk on the reality of global warming, warning “we are into mass extinction territory”, and exploring how we might mitigate the worst of what’s to come using with some of the latest advances in environmental science.

A new epidemic

The comedian and campaigner Ruby Wax chaired a panel discussing the damaging effect lockdown has had on our mental health. Commenting on how ill-equipped we can be when looking after our minds, Ruby came up with a neat metaphor which really resonated with the audience - “someone gave us a Ferrari, but no one gave us the key”. Ruby’s accounts of her own struggles with mental health issues were called “so powerful and honest” by one delegate. 

It wasn’t all pandemics and climate crises though - Day 1 closed out with a comedy set from Matt Parker, The Stand-Up Mathematician, tailor-made for our tech-minded Turing audience with its dizzying references to data, coding, and spreadsheets.

In addition to these fascinating talks, there were also 13 live demos of the latest machine learning technology, which were called “really inspiring and thought provoking” by one attendee.

Special thanks to technology and science writer Gemma Milne who led many of the panels, and who was praised by our delegates for her “expert chairing and hosting”. Also to London Filmed, who worked behind the scenes with our Broadcast Producer Dan Whitfield to ensure the conference was as easy on the eye as it was informative. It was a breath of fresh air after a year of pixelating calls on Zoom and Teams to see such clarity and consistency of audio-visual quality across all the sessions. 

Thanks also to our sponsors who helped make the event possible, but above all, thanks to the entire organising team for putting together such a fantastic programme of speakers, and for all the hard work in promoting the showcase across our networks.

AI UK represented the very best of the Turing – bringing together some of the most exciting and innovative voices in the field, and fostering new connections among our diverse and ever-growing community. Our delegates agreed – 99% of them said they would attend again. One put it best: “You've given us the opportunity to learn an enormous amount, consider crucial issues and inspire and motivate us all going forward”. 

We’ll be adding the sessions to the Turing YouTube channel, so you can revisit your favourite talks and any you may have missed.