April 15, 2024

Oldham News | Top news | “Manchester invented modern computing; it should be at the forefront of this”

Reporter: Joseph Timan, local democracy reporter

Publication date: September 10, 2023


Climate change and poverty are the type of global problems that artificial intelligence (AI) could help solve, according to a government minister.

And visiting Manchester this week, he said the city should be at the forefront of this fight.

In the last year, the world has realized the amazing advancements of AI.

This type of technology that allows computers to learn, act and respond as if they were human beings is already transforming many aspects of modern life.

From virtual assistants like Siri on our mobile phones to x-ray analysis in the NHS, we use AI every day without even realizing it.

But at its most basic, machine learning is nothing new; In fact, the first successful AI program to run on a computer in Manchester was written in 1951.

Since then, computer scientists have competed to pass the test devised by Alan Turing, a wartime code-breaker and former Manchester University student, which he says shows whether a machine is “intelligent.”

As of late 2022, AI software ChatGPT was said to have passed the Turing test by tricking a human into thinking they were talking to another human, although some dispute this.

There have been warnings about the speed at which machines are learning, but there are no signs that this “alarming” pace of progress will slow down any time soon.

In Manchester, academics and businesses are embracing it and local leaders want the success of their research to spread across the region.

There are currently 900 researchers “actively engaged” in AI at the University of Manchester (UoM), including specialists such as Samuel Kaski, described by Professor Richard Curry, vice-dean of research and innovation at the university, as an “international leader” in field.

“This creates an ecosystem for companies to come and establish themselves here,” he explained.

However, despite all the potential that AI has to offer, academics have been struggling to find funding from companies to bring their inventions to life, according to Professor Barry Lennox.

The co-director of the University’s Center for Robotics and Artificial Intelligence works with robots in the dismantling of a nuclear facility.

Currently the robots, which are used in radioactive areas within the Sellafield site in Cumbria, where plutonium for nuclear weapons was produced in the 1950s, are controlled by humans using joysticks.

But Professor Lennox is now studying how to automate some of the work these robots do through AI.

The private sector has been funding some of this work, which is part of a 120-year project to safely close the site.

But Barry says it hasn’t been easy.

“We’ve struggled a lot with innovation,” he said.

“We have found that, until recently, companies simply are not prepared to put in the effort necessary to bring the robots we are developing to the industry.”

On Wednesday, Professor Lennox showed a government minister some of the “cutting-edge” research into AI and robotics at the university.

Viscount Camrose, Minister for AI and Intellectual Property, took a tour of the University of Manchester engineering building, which now houses a new international research center due to officially open in November.

He heard about all the interdisciplinary research being carried out at the Center for Robotic Autonomy in Challenging and Durable Environments (CRADLE), which is being funded by the government to the tune of £3 million, and met one of the robots built to help. with nuclear infrastructure inspection called Lyra.

The minister then took a tour of the Graphene Engineering Innovation Center (GEIC), which will also receive around £3 million in cash from the government, to see its energy storage labs, printing labs and printing facilities. testing of construction materials, before heading to ID. Manchester, where the Turing Innovation Catalyst (TIC) is located.

Viscount Camrose looking at a submersible robot in the engineering building at the University of Manchester

The TIC, one of 10 projects in Greater Manchester chosen for the £33 million Innovation Accelerator programme, aims to link businesses with cutting-edge AI research and technologies to help improve productivity.

In March, the government announced that Greater Manchester would be one of three regions to receive a share of a £100m research and development (R&D) investment fund.

Of the 10 schemes selected here, three are AI-related.

Along with ICT, MediaCityUK’s Immersive Technologies Innovation Center and Manchester Metropolitan University’s (MMU) Center for Digital Innovation (CDI) will also receive a share of the city-region’s £33m.

By working with local leaders, researchers and businesses, this program is “more attuned to precise local needs,” Viscount Camrose said after his tour.

And if these pilots in Glasgow, Greater Manchester and the West Midlands are successful, this investment model will spread to other places, he said.

But Richard Jones also wants this success to spread within the city-region.

The UoM’s vice president of regional innovation and civic engagement has long argued that “rebalancing” R&D spending is an important part of leveling up.

With almost half of government R&D investment spent in the Golden Triangle between London, Oxford and Cambridge, he says more money needs to be spent in the north of England and the Midlands to create “quality jobs”.

But he believes this also means investing outside the city centre, where all the universities are based, and in developments such as Atom Valley, the huge planned industrial site in the north-east of the city-region that promises to create around 20,000 jobs. job.

“Right now, a lot of companies, when they need to build a factory, go to California and Taiwan,” he said.

“We need to make sure they come to Bury, Rochdale and Oldham.”

Home to more than 6,700 digital businesses, 200 of which are already powered by artificial intelligence, Greater Manchester is poised to take advantage of the opportunities these new industries present, according to the government.

Manchester council leader Bev Craig, who is the economic leader of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, says the growth of the digital sector, now worth £5bn, was no accident.

Working with universities, supporting local businesses and attracting big names from around the world has sometimes come at a cost to the public purse.

But this investment has paid off, maintains the Labor council leader.

“We have already been at the forefront, rivaled only by London and the South East,” he said.

“It’s not just a matter of luck that we are here.

“The government has focused on R&D in recent years, but we are ahead in many places and have the potential to go even further.”

Born Jonathan Berry, Viscount Camrose became AI minister in March.

He believes this technology can help us be “much better,” do “much more,” and “solve many more problems.”

AI is already being used to find new cures for diseases, help combat fraud, increase cybersecurity and power autonomous vehicles.

But the hereditary pair’s ambitions are even greater.

“As long as we can make AI reliable and something that people feel comfortable working with, AI will solve a lot of problems that frustrate us all today,” he said.

“Both the small problems and the big ones.

“Climate change, poverty, etc., are already solved.

“As long as we get over the reliability hurdle, I think it’s a time when we should be enormously optimistic.”

Later this year, the UK will host the first global AI security summit at Bletchley Park, where Alan Turing and his team cracked the Enigma code during World War II.

Viscount Camrose says Manchester will play an important role.

“Manchester invented modern computing in many ways,” he said when asked about the city’s role in the world of AI.

“It’s true that I should be at the forefront of this.”


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