New funding for AI doctoral training centre

Researchers from the University of Glasgow will lead a Centre for Doctoral Training aimed at developing the next generation of experts in artificial social intelligence.

A total of 50 new PhDs will be trained at the UKRI Centre for Doctoral Training in Social Intelligent Artificial Agents (SOCIAL), led by the University of Glasgow’s Professor Alessandro Vinciarelli.

SOCIAL is one of 16 new Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs) which will share in £200m in new funding announced today (Thursday 21 February). The CDTs, based at 14 UK universities and supported by 300 partners, are aimed at training 1000 new PhDs to improve healthcare, tackle climate change and create new commercial opportunities.

The artificial intelligence CDTs are backed by a £100m investment from UK Research and Innovation, £78 million in cash or in-kind contributions from project partners including AstraZeneca, Google and Rolls-Royce, and NHS trusts, and £23m from partner universities.

SOCIAL brings together researchers from the University of Glasgow’s Schools of Computing Science and Psychology and the Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology with 16 industrial partners to train students on Socially Intelligent Artificial Agents.

The overarching goal of the CDT is to shape the next generation of experts in Artificial Social Intelligence. It is the AI domain aimed at endowing artificial agents with social intelligence: the ability to deal with users’ attitudes intentions, feelings, personality and expectations.

As well as training in key areas of AI such as human-computer interaction and machine learning, students will be trained by specialists in fields such as psychology, social sciences, ethics and neuroscience. Research will be developed in collaboration with industry partners to address real-world industry problems. Each PhD project will have an interdisciplinary supervisory team and/or industrial associate.

Professor Alessandro Vinciarelli of the University’s School of Computing Science, who led the bid and will act as the centre’s director, said: "We are delighted to have been given this unique opportunity to train the next generation of experts in Artificial Social Intelligence, to lead and advance AI driven interactive technologies nationally and internationally. We are most grateful to UKRI for recognising the needs of the UK economy to become more competitive via informed use and development of socially intelligent agents, and to trust us to fill this current gap, by training the next generation of experts.”

Dr Monika Harvey, Reader in the School of Psychology, who co-wrote the bid as Associate Director, added: “We are now in the unique position of offering training that goes well beyond the knowledge of individual supervisors. From day 1 the students will be embedded in facilities, training courses and events that span multiple disciplines.

“They will learn from each other, engage with industry and feed this knowledge and expertise into other UK and international training centres. The ESRC funded Scottish Graduate School of Social Sciences (SGSSS), as well as SICSA (the Scottish Informatics and Computer Science Alliance) are already partnering us in this venture, and we are thrilled about the mutual cohort training opportunities this will make possible.”

Professor Stacy Marsella, Co-Director of the Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology, said: “It is a huge honour to be given the opportunity to run this CDT. Glasgow does world-leading research in Artificial Social Intelligence, and PhD level cohort training can now take off here at the University. I am looking forward to using this funding to build a training environment that will not only attract Social AI researchers, but also public, private and third sector investors from around the world.”

The announcement of funding for SOCIAL is the latest in a series of successful Centres for Doctoral Funding bids from the University of Glasgow. Earlier this month, UKRI announced support for the University of Glasgow-led CDT for Engineered Tissues for Discovery, Industry and Medicine (or LifETIME) and the CDT in Future Ultrasonic Engineering (or FUSE).

Business Secretary Greg Clark said: “The UK has long been a nation of innovators and today’s package of AI skills and talent investment will help nurture leading UK and international talent to ensure we retain our world-beating reputation in research and development.

“Artificial intelligence has great potential to drive up productivity and enhance every industry throughout our economy, from more effective disease diagnosis to building smart homes. Today’s announcement is our modern Industrial Strategy in action, investing in skills and talent to drive high skilled jobs, growth and productivity across the UK.”