Essex academic part of £31m AI research project

  • Date

    Wed 14 Jun 23

Shoaib Ehsan

Essex academic Dr Shoaib Ehsan is part of a new consortium looking to help the UK become a world powerhouse for the development of responsible artificial intelligence (AI).

Alongside his role at Essex, Dr Ehsan is also an academic at the University of Southampton which is leading a consortium awarded £31million by the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) as part of a strategic investment in AI research.

The multimillion-pound project, known as Responsible AI UK, will bring together experts to create an international research and innovation institute to create trustworthy and secure AI that responds to the needs of society.

Responsible AI UK will work across universities, businesses, public and third sectors to pioneer responsible AI and fund new research to better understand and build trustworthy systems.

Dr Ehsan, who completed his PhD at Essex in 2012 and has been part of Essex’s School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering (CSEE) for 15 years, is a co-investigator within Responsible AI UK as part of his role as an Associate Professor at Southampton. At Essex., Dr Ehsan is a Reader in Spatial AI for Robotics and Autonomous Systems in CSEE.

He said: "You seldom get a chance to work on a project that will have huge impact not only on our current society, environment and economy, but also on our future generations. I am really excited to be part of the Responsible AI UK team to develop an international ecosystem for responsible AI research and innovation.

"There is no doubt that AI has the potential to transform our lives and society. However, we need to make sure that the development and deployment of AI should be done in a responsible way, for the benefit of society. The recent emergence of powerful AI tools indicate some sort of artificial general intelligence, thus responsible and trustworthy AI should be our priority."

Director of Research and Head of the Robotics and Embedded Systems Research Group at Essex, Professor Klaus McDonald-Maier, said: “I am delighted that the University of Essex is part of this flagship AI research programme through our colleague Dr Ehsan."

Professor of Artificial Intelligence Gopal Ramchurn from the University of Southampton is the principal investigator for Responsible AI UK.

He said: “We don’t need to fear artificial intelligence, it won’t threaten humanity but has huge potential to influence how society operates in the future.

“AI should not only be technically safe and accountable, but its impact on its users, their wellbeing and rights, and the wider society needs to be understood for people to trust it.”

The Responsible AI UK consortium will bring together an international ecosystem to address AI challenges. It will fund large and small research and innovation projects and fellowships, grants, develop collaborations between researchers and businesses, develop skills programmes for the public and industry, and deliver guidance to governments.

The consortium will lead national conversations on responsible artificial intelligence across the UK, working closely with policymakers to provide evidence for future policy and regulation, as well as guidance for businesses in deploying AI solutions responsibly.

It will also be the catalyst for an international Responsible and Trustworthy AI ecosystem that will address issues that have precluded the adoption of AI to the benefit of society. It will enshrine interdisciplinary research to open dialog among experts, businesses and the public as active participants in the research, including users and those impacted by AI.

Announcing the funding, Technology Secretary Chloe Smith, said: "Despite our size as a small island nation, the UK is a technology powerhouse. Last year, the UK became just the third country in the world to have a tech sector valued at $1 trillion. It is the biggest in Europe by some distance and behind only the US and China globally.

"The technology landscape, though, is constantly evolving, and we need a tech ecosystem which can respond to those shifting sands, harness its opportunities, and address emerging challenges. The measures unveiled today will do exactly that. We’re investing in our AI talent pipeline with a £54 million package to develop trustworthy and secure artificial intelligence, and putting our best foot forward as a global leader in tech both now, and in the years to come."