Reasonable machines focus of new AI centre

Edinburgh scientists are undertaking a ground-breaking research project that seeks to teach machines to reason like humans.

Artificial intelligence
Artificial intelligence Credit: Getty Images

Experts aim to develop an AI system inspired by the human brain and capable of drawing conclusions from large sets of data using advanced reasoning.

The School of Informatics has been awarded £3.9m from UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to create the Edinburgh Laboratory for Integrated Artificial Intelligence (ELIAI).

New tricks

The new centre, led by Professor Mirella Lapata, will address the limitations of current AI systems, which are unable to match the sophistication of the human brain.

Unlike humans, machines - including robots, computers and virtual assistants – lack the ability to take different types of information from a variety of sources and draw logical conclusions.

Current AI systems also fail when exposed to data outside the information with which they were trained.

Professor Lapata’s team will develop a new type of AI system to improve these processes as well as teaching machines new skills such as how to make generalisations, deal with changing situations, and be creative, by writing poems, for example.

Most importantly, the team say, the project will help machines to explain their predictions and decisions, something current AI systems are unable to do.

Turing Fellows

Professor Lapata is one of five internationally renowned researchers to be appointed by UKRI as the first Turing AI World-Leading Researcher Fellows to conduct ground-breaking work on AI’s biggest challenges.

The fellowships, named after AI pioneer Alan Turing, are part of the UK's commitment to further strengthen its position as a global leader in AI.

The fellows’ research could have a transformative effect on AI research and could also deliver major benefits in areas including personalised medicine, synthetic biology and drug design, financial modelling and autonomous vehicles, according to UKRI.

The fellows are supported by a combined £18 million investment. 

Project partners for ELIAI include ARM Ltd, BBC, British Library, Google DeepMind UK, Dyson Limited, Huawei, IBM, Naver Labs Europe, RAS Technologies GMBH, Scottish and Southern Energy SSE plc, Brainnwave Ltd, Wallscope, and Amazon Research Cambridge.  

Developing AI systems that can effectively learn and predict from mixed and incomplete data is vital for their exploitation to support humans. Professor Lapata’s world-leading research will enable a major step-up in our capability to develop effective AIs for use in medicine, transport, safety and robotics. Doing so within the University’s trusted, ethical environment will reassure that the systems will help us to deliver human benefits in a sustainable manner in our complex and vulnerable world.

Professor Jonathan Seckl Senior Vice-Principal, University of Edinburgh

This funding will provide a unique opportunity to build a dynamic research hub to integrate expertise in different strands of AI, within the School of Informatics. 

"We will create an interdisciplinary environment where collaboration between researchers is encouraged to work on projects that will shape the future of AI.

"Our first goal will be to develop AI models with reasoning abilities which go beyond pattern matching and show how these improve applications in the fields of machine learning, robotics, computer vision and natural language processing.

Professor Mirella LapataPersonal Chair in Natural Language Processing, School of Informatics, University of Edinburgh

The Turing AI World-Leading Researcher Fellowships recognise internationally-leading researchers in AI, and provide the support needed to tackle some of the biggest challenges and opportunities in AI research. These fellowships enable the UK to attract top international talent to the UK as well as retaining our own world-leaders. Attracting and retaining top talent is essential to keep the UK at the leading edge of AI research and innovation.

Professor Dame Lynn GladdenEPSRC Executive Chair

Related links

Study at the School of Informatics  

CDT in Natural Language Processing   

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)     

Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)