£10.6million funding award for new AI research partnership

Professor Georgios Leontidis (University of Aberdeen)

A MAJOR new partnership that will train the next generation of scientists specialising in the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to promote sustainable agriculture has received a £10.6 million funding boost.

The SUSTAIN Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) received the award from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) as part of a £117 million package for AI research has announced.

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The partnership involving the universities of Aberdeen, Lincoln, Strathclyde and Queens University Belfast aims to transform the UK agri-food sector’s approach to sustainability while ensuring that everyone in the UK has access to food that is nutritious, delicious, affordable, and safe.

It will provide a cross-disciplinary doctoral training program across all four universities to support research in the application of AI to sustainable agri-food. This will cover the technical and social science aspects of AI alongside training in plant, animal and/or biosciences, tailored to individual students’ needs and interests.

Professor Georgios Leontidis, the University of Aberdeen’s Interdisciplinary Director for Data & AI and Chair in Machine Learning, is Co-Deputy Director of SUSTAIN.

He said: “The agri-food sector is hugely important for the UK economy but it faces challenges in terms of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions and becoming more sustainable in line with the UK’s net zero ambitions.

“AI will help the sector achieve the rapid transformation needed to meet this challenge and SUSTAIN aims to train the scientists who will ensure that it does.

“SUSTAIN students will benefit from world-leading facilities offered by each institution including those of the University of Aberdeen’s School of Natural and Computing Sciences, School of Biological Sciences, and Rowett Institute with its extensive state-of-the-art laboratories.

“Meanwhile, SUSTAIN will also be highly industry-focused with a plan for every PhD project to be co-created with industry stakeholders leading to wider engagement with AI and greater inclusion in its development and use.

“I am delighted to act as the Co-Deputy Director for the SUSTAIN CDT which will enable the University to work alongside world-leading experts, stakeholders, and students who will benefit from world-leading facilities and expert supervision.”

Professor Pete Smith (FRS, FRSE), Chair in Soils & Global Change, is also a Co-Investigator and SUSTAIN’s Sustainability Lead. He commented: “I am delighted to be involved in this innovative CDT which will harness the power of AI to address some of the most pressing challenges we face this century.”

Professor Simon Parsons, Professor of AI and Machine Learning and Head of the School of Computer Science at University of Lincoln, will lead the programme.

He said: “I am delighted to be leading The SUSTAIN Centre for Doctoral on behalf of the University of Lincoln. SUSTAIN will help to transform the agri-food sector in the UK through the deployment of safe, responsible, and understandable AI.”

Commenting on the funding package from UKRI which has seen investment in 12 UKRI Centres for Doctoral Training in AI at 16 universities, Secretary of State Michelle Donelan said:

“The UK is at the very front of the global race to turn AI’s awesome potential into a giant leap forward for people’s quality of life and productivity at work, all while ensuring this technology works safely, ethically and responsibly.

“The plans we are announcing today will future-proof our nation’s skills base, meaning we can reap the benefits of AI as it continues to develop. At the same time, we are taking the first steps to put the power of this technology to work, for good, across Government and society.”

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