Sir Alan Wilson FBA FAcSS FRS

Sir Alan Wilson


Director, Special Projects


Sir Alan Wilson is Director, Special Projects of The Alan Turing Institute, with responsibility for leading specific research and partnership projects. He was CEO of the Institute between 2016-2018. From 2018-2021 he has directed the Turing-UKRI Programme, AI for science and government, and now continues to work on other research programmes, including learning machines, the economics of cities and the Living with machines project. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Banking Standards Board.

He is a Cambridge Mathematics graduate and began his research career in elementary particle physics at the Rutherford Laboratory. He turned to the social sciences, working on cities, with posts in Oxford and London before becoming Professor of Urban and Regional Geography in Leeds in 1970. He was a member of Oxford City Council from 1964-1967. In the late 1980s, he was the co-founder of GMAP Ltd, a University spin-out company. He was Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leeds from 1991 to 2004 when he became Director-General for Higher Education in the then DfES. After a brief spell in Cambridge, he joined UCL in 2007.  He was Professor of Urban and Regional Systems in the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis at University College London up to 2018.

From 2007-2013 he was Chair of the Arts and Humanities Research Council; from 2013-2015, Chair of the Lead Expert Group for the Government Office for Science Foresight Project on The Future of Cities; from 2013-2018, Chair of the Home Office Science Advisory Council; and from 2017-2019, Chair of the Ada Lovelace Institute.

He is a Member of Academia Europaea, an FBA, an FAcSS and an FRS. He was knighted in 2001 for services to higher education.

Research interests

His research field covers many aspects of mathematical modelling of cities and the use of these models in planning. These techniques are now in common use internationally – including the use of the concept of entropy in building spatial interaction models – summarised in Entropy in urban and regional modelling (re-issued in 2011 by Routledge). These models have been widely used in areas such as transport planning, demography and economic modelling.

His recent research is on the applications of dynamical systems theory in relation to modelling the evolution of urban structure in both historical and contemporary settings. This led to the laying of the foundations of a comprehensive theory of urban dynamics described in Complex spatial systems (2000).

He has published over 200 papers and his recent books include The science of cities and regions (2012), his five volume Urban modelling (2012, edited), Explorations in urban and regional dynamics (2015, with Joel Dearden), Global dynamics (2016, edited) and Geo-mathematical modelling (2016, edited). He has a particular interest in interdisciplinarity and published Knowledge power in 2010; he writes the Quaestio blog.