Funding Calls

Major new AI and data science programme to transform engineering, urban planning and healthcare

Digital twins – digital replicas of physical systems assisted by artificial intelligence (AI) – have the potential to be used to view aircraft engines in-flight to identify safety risks, model wind turbine design for improved energy generation and allow customers to model new fashion on a virtual twin of themselves.

Now researchers will develop digital twins to transform engineering and urban planning as part of two new research programmes announced by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) on 19 December 2018. The programmes, supported with £48 million of funding delivered through the Strategic Priorities Fund, will:

  • Use data-driven approaches to understand the impact of the Industrial Revolution and the mechanisation of work, and draw lessons that can be used in the 21st century as we undergo a digital industrial revolution
  • Utilise AI and data science to transform engineering and urban planning through the use of digital twins; revolutionise healthcare, through machine-learning based detection, diagnosis and treatment of illness; develop tools for criminal justice to prevent crime and identify and rehabilitate offenders; and use AI to interpret data generated through research in the physical and life sciences

AI and data is one of the four Industrial Strategy Grand Challenges outlined by the government to put the UK at the forefront of the industries of the future. UKRI is delivering funding through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund to use AI and data to revolutionise early diagnosis of diseases and conditions and their treatment, such as five new centres of excellence for digital pathology and imaging, established with £50m of funding.

UK Research and Innovation Chief Executive, Professor Sir Mark Walport, said: “Artificial intelligence and data technologies developed in the UK will have a positive impact across society. For example, they can diagnose and treat illness, manage and minimise power usage and reduce crime.

“Through the Strategic Priorities Fund, UKRI is bringing together policy makers, academia and business to drive collaborations that will tackle some of the key challenges we face.”

The Strategic Priorities Fund is being delivered by UKRI to drive an increase in high quality multi- and interdisciplinary research and innovation; ensure that UKRI’s investment links up effectively with government research priorities and opportunities; and ensure the system responds to strategic priorities and opportunities. The announcement today follows the recent announcement of three bioscience-themed Strategic Priorities Fund programmes. Further programmes will be announced in the coming months.

Summaries of the programmes

Living with Machines

Funding: £9.2 million

The Living with Machines project is a major new five-year research project that will take a fresh look at the well-known history of the Industrial Revolution using data-driven approaches.

Data scientists, historians, computational linguists, geographers, and archivists will collaborate to better understand the social and cultural impact of the mechanisation of work – a move that changed our world and the way that we live forever.

By bringing together large-scale digital collections and advanced data science and artificial intelligence techniques, this project will devise new methods of research that will revolutionise the way historical sources are analysed. These methods will enable new insights into the changes that technology brought to the UK during the nineteenth century and provide crucial lessons for the rapid change that we are seeing today with the digital industrial revolution.

This programme is being led by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). The partners for this important new research project are The Alan Turing Institute, the British Library, and the University of Cambridge, the University of East Anglia, the University of Exeter, and Queen Mary University of London.

AI and Data Science for Engineering, Health, Science and Government

Funding: £39.3m

This programme will support a range of objectives covering four high-priority areas, with the aim to transform:

  • engineering and urban planning, through the development of ‘digital twins’, digital replicas of physical systems
  • health, through applying machine learning to assist in the detection and diagnosis of illness, and the planning and personalisation of medical treatment
  • the physical and life sciences, through applying AI to the vast amounts of data generated by scientific research
  • criminal justice, through developing the technical tools as well as the ethical foundations to prevent crime, identify and rehabilitate offenders, and improve the operation of the criminal justice system.

This programme is being led by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) in collaboration with The Alan Turing Institute, Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), Medical Research Council (MRC), Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC). It includes policy support from the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice and Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC). Researchers at The Alan Turing Institute will work across some of these challenges with government departments, such as the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice. In addition, the outcomes of this

programme will support the policy development of other government departments, such as the Department for Transport, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs and DHSC. This programme will ensure that the UK meets the AI needs of the Industrial Strategy and stays competitive internationally.

Further Information

For further information contact James Giles-Franklin ( and 07702 611906) and Corinne Mosese ( and 07522 218070) in the UKRI press office.

Further information on the Strategic Priorities Fund.