Microsoft boosts Alan Turing Institute's data science research

The Alan Turing Institute has been awarded $5 million of Microsoft Azure cloud computing credits to support its research into data science. Researchers at The Alan Turing Institute will use the Azure cloud computing platform to undertake computer-intensive activities such as data analytics at scale, machine learning and data visualisation.

Azure cloud services will provide our data scientists with an easily accessible platform where they can prototype ideas with a fast turnaround of results, complementing local computing facilities available in the Institute’s five founding universities, and national resources such as the supercomputer ARCHER supported by EPSRC,’ said Andrew Blake, the Institute’s Director.

‘We are delighted that Microsoft is enabling access to Azure cloud services, and supporting this crucial element of our research infrastructure,’ Blake added.

The Alan Turing Institute is the UK’s national centre for data science, headquartered at the British Library. Research at The Alan Turing Institute ranges from challenges in financial services and smart cities to engineering and security, focusing on four key areas: drawing on mathematical representations, inference and learning, systems and platforms, and data-driven methods for the social sciences for understanding human behaviour.

Chris Russell, a research fellow in computer vision and machine learning at The Alan Turing Institute, explained the benefits of using the cloud for his research: ’Cloud computing is useful in data science research because we often spend a lot of time thinking and coding, and then we have a short window where we want to use a lot of computation power to immediately test our ideas before we go back to thinking again.’

‘One area of my research is how I can produce vivid and lifelike 3D models from simple camera footage. Even though the code I produce is fast enough to run on a home laptop, in order to get the best 3D reconstructions on a wide range of videos I may need to rerun the code hundreds of thousands of times,’ stated Russell. ‘This kind of fluctuating need for computation is a great match for the cloud which lets me run these large-scale experiments in the time it takes to drink a cup of coffee.’

Suzy Moat, a faculty fellow at The Alan Turing Institute and Associate Professor of Behavioural Science at Warwick Business School, commented: ‘Our everyday use of the Internet generates vast quantities of data. In my research, I’m interested in understanding whether such data can help us measure and even predict human behaviour in the real world. Access to cloud computing services will be of immense use in helping us turn these huge online datasets into insights that we hope will be of value to scientists and policymakers alike.’

Following a public competition with international peer review, the Institute was founded in 2015 as a joint venture by the universities of Cambridge, Edinburgh, Oxford, University College London, Warwick and the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. Research at the Institute begins in Autumn 2016.

Once the Institute is up and running, it will provide a range of data science research projects. In addition to providing this research, the institute also aims to train the next generation of data science leaders through research and teaching. The institute has already offered more than 20 students access to its doctoral training programme and plans to offer periods of enrichment training for an additional 20 students.

Dr Kenji Takeda, director of the Azure for Research program at Microsoft Research, will be at the Turing Institute to develop further collaborative research opportunities and to assist with Azure training for researchers and students.

Joseph Sirosh, corporate vice president of the Data Group at Microsoft, commented, ‘We are proud to be working closely with the Alan Turing Institute to show how AI, machine learning and data science can be applied in novel ways to real-world problems. We are excited to be enabling researchers to do their best work by providing access to the state-of-the-art capabilities in Microsoft Azure.’

Jeannette M Wing, corporate vice president of Microsoft Research, added: ‘The Alan Turing Institute is a unique place where researchers from the U.K.’s top universities come together to push the boundaries of data science. This partnership with the Alan Turing Institute is a prime example of how Microsoft is investing in the global data science research ecosystem, and we look forward to seeing the results of this collaboration.’

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