The Alan Turing Institute signals progress for HPC
The UK’s Alan Turing Institute has marked its first few days of operations with the announcement of its new director, the confirmation of £10 million of research funding from Lloyd’s Register Foundation, a research partnership with GCHQ, collaboration with the EPSRC and Cray, and the commencement of its first research activities.
The institute has appointed Professor Andrew Blake, who will join the Institute in October, as its first Director where he is expected to begin a five year appointment. Currently the laboratory director of Microsoft Research UK, Blake has been involved in contemporary computing research since completing his PhD in Artificial Intelligence at the University of Edinburgh in 1983.
Howard Covington, chairman of The Alan Turing Institute, said: ‘We are absolutely delighted that Andrew Blake has agreed to become the Institute’s first Director. His experience, drive, wisdom and enthusiasm will get the Institute off to a great start.’
Speaking on his appointment Blake said: ‘The vision of bringing together the mathematical and computer scientists from the country’s top universities to develop the new discipline of data science, through an independent institute with strategic links to commerce and industry, is very compelling. The institute has a societally important mission and ambitious research goals. We will go all out to achieve them.'
The delivery of the Institute is coordinated by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), which invests in research and postgraduate training across the UK. But the institute was formally created earlier this year through a joint venture agreement between the founding partners, the universities of Cambridge, Edinburgh, Oxford, UCL, Warwick and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), on 30 March 2015.
During the formal announcement of the Alan Turing Institute in January this year, Vince Cable the then Secretary of State for Business for the UK government, said: ‘Alan Turing’s genius played a pivotal role in cracking the codes that helped us win the Second World War. It is therefore only right that our country’s top universities are chosen to lead this new institute named in his honour.’
‘Headed by the universities of Cambridge, Edinburgh, Oxford, Warwick and UCL - the Alan Turing Institute will attract the best data scientists and mathematicians from the UK and across the globe to break new boundaries in how we use big data in a fast moving, competitive world.’
The conditions to the joint venture agreement were satisfied on 22 July 2015, with the effect that the Alan Turing Institute is now fully constituted and has begun operations, headquartered at the British Library. The Institute is being funded over five years with £42 million from the UK government and additional funding sourced from the selected university partners. The Institute will also seek to partner with other business and government bodies to generate further funding.
The first funding announcement comes from a partnership between the Alan Turing Institute and the Lloyd’s Register Foundation (LRF), as the LRF has approved a research grant totalling £10 million over the next five years. The LRF is a UK charity established in 2012, to fund the advancement of engineering-related education and research.
Together the Lloyd’s Register Foundation and the Institute will undertake a 5-year programme of work focused on building the emerging field of data science and the role of data-centric engineering within it. This will specifically recognise the value of data as an asset and seek to place data at the forefront of engineering design. The research challenges posed here go to the heart of the Institute’s research agenda and their solution will contribute to reduce some of the major global risks on the horizon: food, water and energy security, climate change, pandemic disease, unstructured urbanisation and global constraints.
Richard Clegg, chief executive of the Lloyd’s Register Foundation, said: ‘There is a remarkable alignment between the interests of the Lloyd’s Register Foundation and The Alan Turing Institute in the applications of big data to engineering. This is a crucially important research area for our Foundation.’
In addition to the funding announcement the Alan Turing institute has announced two partnerships, one with GCHQ to further research on open access and commercial data-analysis and the second with Cray and the ESPRC to develop a next generation analytics capability on the UK’s largest supercomputer for scientific research, ARCHER.
The Alan Turing Institute and GCHQ have agreed to work together with the wider national security community for the benefit of data science and analytics research in the UK. They have agreed to cooperate on training and research in data-analytical methods that may be applied in open access and commercial environments.
Robert Hannigan, GCHQ’s Director said: ‘GCHQ is delighted to be a partner of The Alan Turing Institute and have the opportunity to help maintain Alan Turing’s legacy for generations to come. Alan Turing spent much of his life working with data, both during and after the war, and it's a fitting tribute that his name is associated with an institute that will dedicate itself to becoming the world leader in the analysis and application of big data and algorithm research.’
He added: ‘We believe that the Institute will allow GCHQ researchers together with our counterparts in national security and defence in the public sector to work with the best in the field, as well as providing the opportunity to share and develop our own techniques and ideas, across a broad array of sectors. This will help us meet the challenges set by the National Cyber Security Strategy.’
As part of the collaboration with Cray and the ESPRC, the ARCHER supercomputer, based at the University of Edinburgh, will be enabled with advanced data analytics capabilities that will provide a scalable platform to enable the science community, commerce and industry to realise the value of big data for the UK economy. Cray will support research at The Alan Turing Institute that uses this new capability.
‘EPSRC is a stakeholder in both The Alan Turing Institute and the ARCHER system, which provides the largest supercomputer in the UK for scientific research,’ said Philip Nelson, Chief Executive of EPSRC. ‘Both of these programmes aim to bring breakthrough research to the UK and with this close relationship we will transform our ARCHER supercomputer into the largest data analytics platform in the world, enabling huge breakthroughs in leveraging big data into the UK economy and catapulting the UK into a world leader in the data sciences’ Nelson concluded.
As part of the relationship, The Alan Turing Institute and Cray will work together with EPSRC on future technology requirements and on methodologies, algorithms, middleware and applications around data science to help co-design future generations of big data systems as well as providing a capability to increase the adoption of these technologies across industry partners and the various UK governmental agencies.
Cray will extend the capabilities of its Centres of Excellence beyond supercomputing into data analytics as an extension of their current European R&D programme headquartered in Bristol, UK.
Not content with this list of activities, the institute is also organising a series of summits for users of big data will be held at the founding partner universities. These summits are aimed at encouraging users to discuss the challenges they are encountering in dealing with big data and identifying high impact research areas for the Institute.They will also help to initiate further topics of research at the institute and its partner organisations.
Details of these summits can be found on the Alan Turing Institute website.