By | November 20, 2023
Manchester invented modern computing.  Now we want to lead the world in AI

Climate change and poverty – these are the kinds of global problems artificial intelligence (AI) can help solve, according to a minister. And when he visited Manchester this week, he said the city should be at the forefront of this fight.

Over the past year, the world has woken up to the amazing advances in AI. This type of technology, in which machines are trained to perform complex tasks – which mimic human capabilities – is already changing many aspects of modern life.

From virtual assistants like Siri on our mobile phones to X-ray analysis in the NHS, we use AI every day without even realizing it. But in its most basic form, machine learning is nothing new – in fact, the first successful AI program to run on a computer was written in Manchester in 1951.

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Since then, computer scientists have raced to pass the test devised by wartime codebreaker and Manchester University alumnus Alan Turing, which, he claimed, proves whether a machine is “intelligent”. In late 2022, AI software ChatGPT was said to have passed the Turing test by tricking a human into thinking they are talking to another human – although some dispute this.

There have been warnings about the speed at which the machines are learning, but there are no signs that the pace of progress will slow down anytime soon. In Manchester, academics and businesses are embracing it – and local leaders want the success of their research to spread across the region.

Prof Richard Curry, Vice-Dean for Research and Innovation at the University of Manchester(Image: University of Manchester)

There are currently 900 researchers “actively engaged” in AI at the University of Manchester (UoM), including specialists such as Samuel Kaski, described by Professor Richard Curry, the university’s vice-dean for research and innovation, as an “international leader” in the field. “This creates an ecosystem for businesses to come and set up here,” he explained.

But despite all the potential AI has to offer, academics have struggled to find corporate funding to bring their inventions to life, according to Professor Barry Lennox. The co-director of the university’s Center for Robotics and AI works with robots decommissioning a nuclear power plant.

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