Tech Overlook

Microsoft Research and Cambridge University strengthen their commitment to AI innovation and the field’s future leaders


By Christopher Bishop, Technical Fellow and Laboratory Director at Microsoft Research Cambridge

Microsoft is partnering with the University of Cambridge to boost the number of AI researchers in the UK and help them change the world for the better.

The Microsoft Research-Cambridge University Machine Learning Initiative will provide support for Ph.D. students at the world-leading university, and offer a postdoctoral research position  at Microsoft Research Lab, Cambridge . Our aim is to realise artificial intelligence’s potential in enhancing the human experience and to nurture the next generation of researchers and talent in the field.

Microsoft is working hard on the biggest challenges in the field of AI so we can develop tools that will change lives and organizations across the world. Skype Translator has helped people communicate in many languages and countries. After 10 years of research we’ve released Infer.NET, a cross-platform framework for model-based machine learning that has been used in asthma research and gene analysis, among many other areas.

The parts of society that will benefit most from machine learning will need sophisticated solutions that reflect the complexities of the world in which we live. Such intelligent infrastructure has the potential to support decision-making in numerous fields, including healthcare, education, transport, urban planning and agriculture. However, Microsoft cannot make the necessary advancements alone, nor should we do so at the expense of academia.

The Microsoft Research-Cambridge University Machine Learning Initiative builds on a decades-long relationship in Cambridge between Microsoft Research and the university. It also represents our strong commitment to collaborating with others to ensure there is a pipeline of future researchers who are equipped to take AI forwards into the future.

Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Jeremy Wright, said: “The UK is a beacon for international talent and at the forefront of emerging technologies because of the ideas developed in our world-leading universities.  This new collaboration between Microsoft and Cambridge University will help us continue to develop homegrown AI talent and supports the government’s modern Industrial Strategy and £1 billion AI sector deal. It is crucial that we do all we can to capitalise on our global advantage in this technology. This work has been further bolstered by announcements made in the Budget this week. The Government will now also invest up to £50 million over four years in new Turing AI Fellowships to bring the best global researchers in AI to the UK, and increase the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund to £1.1 billion, supporting technologies of the future.”

Through this initiative, we are bolstering the University of Cambridge’s AI research capacity and capability by supporting visiting researchers, postdoctoral researchers, Ph.D. students and interns from the UK and abroad, thereby increasing the flow of people and ideas between the Microsoft Cambridge lab and the university. Staff at the University of Cambridge are already lecturing in the Microsoft AI Residency Program and contributing to major industry-led projects. Microsoft researchers teach at the university and supervise projects at all levels, and this initiative will further increase that exchange of knowledge.

From this partnership, we expect to see deep research into the fundamentals of machine learning and its application in many areas, particularly in healthcare, where the use of machine learning is in its infancy. The aim is to efficiently integrate information — from medical tests and treatments to environmental factors — to help medical professionals make decisions  that put patients first, whether it’s a diagnosis, treatment or disease prevention.

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By working in partnership with academia, we will accelerate the creation of AI and machine learning technologies to change the UK and the world for the better.

“Cambridge has a culture of ideas going back and forth between industry and academia, and this agreement with Microsoft is a prime example,” said Professor Andy Neely, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Enterprise and Business Relations at Cambridge. “By working together with industry on issues such as how best to use AI and machine learning, we can not only help solve complex issues for industry, but continue to support world-leading research and train the next generation of leaders in the field.”

Business Secretary Greg Clark said: “The UK has an unmatched heritage in AI and its application in emerging sectors and technologies.  This partnership between one of the world’s leading universities and technology developer and Microsoft is a great example of collaboration between business and academia. The UK’s leading research and innovation base are driving parts of our modern Industrial Strategy supported with the biggest increase in public research and development investment in the UK’s history.”

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