AI for Bradford

Why is this important?

Artificial intelligence (AI) systems are designed through data acquisition, to capture, interpret, process, reason and decide the best action(s) to take to achieve a given goal. AI systems can adapt their behaviour by analysing how the environment is affected by their previous actions. AI includes several approaches and techniques, such as machine learning, machine reasoning (which includes planning, scheduling, knowledge representation and reasoning, search, and optimisation), and robotics (which includes control, perception, sensors and actuators, as well as the integration of all other techniques into cyber- physical systems). The potential for new applications in all sectors to address societal challenges and deliver opportunities for economic growth are enormous.

The Government recently published its AI Strategy and Action Plan which highlights AI innovation driving significant growth over the next decade. It encourages local authorities and partners to work together to support businesses in their adoption of AI and other “5.0 technologies” to build resilience, increase their productivity and growth, through new products and solutions. It highlights increasing opportunity for exponential growth for AI start-ups and scale-ups with the UK market investment, private and public, running into £billions. Data shows the UK ranks third in the world, behind the USA and China, with global investors pouring £13.5 billion into more than 1,400 UK private technology firms in just six months of 2021.

The full benefit from using AI and data, in both small and large companies is still to be fully realised, and the true impact of AI and data will be in our health sector, green economy, advanced manufacturing, on our roads, in our warehouses and at home. Every sector of the economy will benefit. It will be used to solve the greatest challenges we face, environmental sustainability, energy, food and water security, improved health and quality of life.

The case for an AI Partnership

The opportunity to address these new markets is growing as new applications emerge, challenges are overcome, regulatory standards are established and the barriers to adoption are lowered. We also know, in order to succeed, AI innovators need access to data to develop solutions. We believe Bradford District has an opportunity to be a UK leader in AI research if we can co-ordinate our academic AI expertise, our digital infrastructure and our ground breaking data science projects. A partnership will help achieve this, establish maturity in our processes, better target inward investment, identify use cases and collaborative opportunities that address societal challenges and boost business growth. It will provide a focal point where ideas can flourish and AI and Data can merge together and where innovation and commercial reality meet to drive progress and uptake.

The “AI for Bradford” Partnership would:

  • federate and combine the diverse communities that underpin our local AI and Data capabilities to build up an effective innovation ecosystem.
  • seek and stimulate private investment and position public funding to address the key challenges that matter in areas of economic importance including advanced manufacturing, health and wellbeing, innovation and entrepreneurship and clean growth.
  • guide policy and strategy around investment creating new levels of dynamic collaborations and productive outcomes.

AI technology has reached a level of maturity where wide-scale impact is possible. “Industry 5.0” technologies such as AI, advanced automation and robotics are transforming how businesses operate by connecting the physical with the digital world. Without a local functioning innovation ecosystem that supports research and translation, our district won’t capitalise on these opportunities. No single organisation alone can achieve the required level of coherence across our district necessary to maximise uptake and impact; this requires a collaborative partnership.

The Partnership should have a broad remit to road mapping and engagement and support the whole of the research and innovation pathway from lab  to application. It should encompass all paradigms, techniques, methods and applications of AI and Data and develop the opportunities for joint and collective actions between these technologies and data more effectively than if each were isolated. It would be open to industry, academia, public bodies and to organisations both small and large. In particular, SMEs, start-ups and entrepreneurs would be encouraged to take part and it would connect with other related partnerships and innovation organisations in the UK and beyond.

The “AI for Bradford” Partnership would also be able to support broader applications of AI for social good, facilitate access for AI start-ups and scale-ups to advocacy groups, local data scientists and social purpose challenge owners from specific sectors, to curate and label data sets that solve defined problems by applying the correct specialist knowledge to the types of data needed to solve a particular challenge.

We also need to bridge the gap between the end of early stage AI start-up support and the scale-up phase, to help build additional sales pipelines for AI companies and provide a more collaborative environment for industry to adopt the technology. The approach could be to work with the Accelerator Programmes and various business support programmes already in place to promote and support broader applications of advanced digital technology for social, environmental and economic good. This could be delivering six-month sprints that create opportunities for under-represented and diverse innovators, and providing access to mentorship, courses and Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs). By encouraging and enabling AI start-ups to build sales pipelines and bridge the gap between proofs of concept/ pilots and enterprise adoption, we can create the perfect market conditions for growth. The “AI for Bradford” Partnership can be the ‘glue’ to plug these start-ups into various public sector initiatives and schemes. This could help to ensure a sustained supply of AI innovations coming to market.

Government support

There is now a lot of focus, and investment being made in AI spearheaded by the Government’s National AI Strategy, building on the success of investments made through the AI Sector Deal. The Government has also pledged to continue to invest £billions in coming years into developing this market to make the UK a global leader. A National AI Research and Innovation Programme is being launched to improve coordination and collaboration between the country’s researchers and help transform the UK’s AI capabilities, while boosting business and public sector adoption of AI technologies and their ability to take them to market.

Also being launched is a joint Office for AI (OAI) and UK Research & Innovation (UKRI) programme aimed at continuing to develop AI in sectors based outside of London and the South East. This will focus on the commercialisation of ideas and could see, for example, the government focusing investment, researchers and developers to work in areas which currently do not use much AI technology but have great potential, such as energy and clean growth.

There are also actions being taken to support copyright and patents for AI through the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) and trialling an AI Standards Hub to coordinate UK engagement in setting the rules globally. There is ongoing work with The Alan Turing Institute to update guidance on AI ethics and safety in the public sector and create practical tools to make sure the technology is used ethically.

Clearly AI is an area which will command much attention and investment throughout this decade. Bradford District needs to position itself to ensure it benefits from public sector investment and secure Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) opportunities. Now is the time to co-ordinate our efforts and build on our local strengths through an “AI for Bradford” Partnership.

Linking in to Bradford’s Advanced Digital Infrastructure

Implementation of this Digital Strategy will establish the foundations that most future services will be built on and will be fundamental to Bradford’s future economic success, particularly universal gigabit fibre, 5G connectivity and the Internet of Things (IoT) infrastructure. These capabilities will be crucial to the deployment of AI applications.

There will be opportunity to leverage the increasing deployment of IoT across the district. This transformational technology will help businesses develop new products and services, improve efficiency, productivity and organisational performance through IoT-enabled devices that can also harness AI’s predictive capabilities. The maturity of the IoT market will accelerate over the next five years and will bring significant improvements in how AI and the IoT are used, for example in capturing and visualising data to drive better decision making.

As the IoT market continues to grow, new and existing devices, software and capabilities will be linked with IoT sensors to address real world issues, connected by 5G networks which will move the use of IoT from simple data collections and analytics to allow real-world processes to be autonomously influenced and made adaptive to real-world events, for example, industrial processes, supply chains and logistics, energy management, water flow and traffic management.

The deployment of IoT will play a key role in the emerging urban data economy by providing a rich set of real-time data that can be used beyond the initial application or service for which the IoT infrastructure was initially deployed. Over the next five to ten years, a significant amount of the data required by AI-enabled services will come from IoT devices deployed as part of the advanced digital infrastructure in buildings and public spaces, or from those being worn by or attached to people, assets and goods. The explosion of data  will mean more IoT data processing being moved to ‘the edge’ to avoid a great deal of unnecessary data communication and transfer. This deployment of edge IoT devices will be a crucial enabler for AI solutions, as part of the advanced digital infrastructure of Bradford District.

The “AI for Bradford” Partnership will provide the opportunity to research and develop solutions around the security and ethical implications of using AI at the edge, to ensure that data privacy is considered. Applying AI systems responsibly inevitably requires a great deal of development before getting anywhere near the physical world. Virtual Bradford, the Digital Twin application discussed under our Data theme, will provide insight into how complex physical assets and citizens behave in real time. Our expanded programme to advance the digital twin capability, with open source and interoperable data standards, will help developers explore the potential for applications in the physical world but cheaper, faster and with less risk, as well as a better understanding of the implications and impacts to society and the economy.

AI thrives when connected with digital twins, using machine learning algorithms to analyse complex patterns and make decisions between different processes and systems alongside generating new insights with newly combined datasets.

What do we need to invest in?

Investment in the following areas are needed to be a success:

AI and Data Ecosystem Stimulation - The Partnership will contribute to creating a connected and rich innovation ecosystem for AI and Data across the district. It will provide strong leadership for AI and Data that ensures the district has a clear, unified voice that is rooted in its widespread deployment of these technologies. This will support the district to develop a leading position in AI and Data that aligns with our values. Government and private investment will be needed to stimulate the ecosystem. No single business or local body will secure the scale and range of investment that working in partnership will achieve. Working together will give us a better chance of securing investment in areas such as community building, roadmap development, challenge based competitions and infrastructure development such as digital innovation hubs and Living Labs.

Skills Development - This is a very competitive space and investment will be needed to develop, attract and retain the relevant skills. Data from an ecosystem  survey conducted by the AI Council and The Alan Turing Institute showed that 81% of respondents agreed there were significant barriers in recruiting and retaining top AI talent in their domain within the UK. Further research into the AI Labour Market showed that technical AI skill gaps are a concern for many firms, with 35% of firms revealing that a lack of technical AI skills from existing employees had prevented them from meeting their business goals, and 49% saying that a lack of required AI skills from job applicants also affected their business outcomes. To support the adoption of AI we also need to ensure that non-technical employees understand the opportunities, limitations and ethics of using AI in a business setting, rather than these being the exclusive domain of technical practitioners.

Two of the 16 centres announced by the UK Research & Innovation Agency on Doctoral Training in AI are in the Yorkshire region namely, the University of Leeds and the University of Sheffield. However, University of Bradford continues to strengthen its AI capabilities with AI courses at undergraduate and post graduate level, whilst running complimentary courses in cyber security, Internet of Things, and Big Data Science.

Furthermore, its AI and Visual Computing Research Unit already focuses on the development of novel AI and visual computing solutions for real-world problems in collaboration with variety of academic, industrial and clinical partners and has strengths and expertise in all areas of AI and experience of applied projects. This research unit has four knowledge transfer arms: The Visual Computing Centre, the Advanced Automotive Analytics Research Institute, the Computing Enterprise Centre and the newly established Health Data Analytics Lab. The University has recently been awarded

£700,000 by the Office for Students (OfS) for new innovative programme design and funded scholarships for AI and Data Analytics, creating future AI and Data Analytics visionaries. There is also the Bradford-Renduchintala Centre for Space AI developing innovative solutions such as the AI-based system to combat cyber- attacks against aeroplanes and air traffic control. This contributes to a real strength in the region.

The Partnership will work to build on these strengths and seek investment to ensure that AI and Data skills are developed throughout the district. Our initiatives outlined under Digital Skills capability such as the Digital Skills Plan, Digital Makers and CTE Partnerships, should help increase the capacity of AI and Data education and vocational training to support a strong skills pipeline in AI and Data at all educational levels; this will increase the supply of talent. Longer term it will ensure that the successful adoption and deployment of these technologies is not limited by a lack of skills in the workforce.

Investment will be needed in developing the Digital Skills Plan, supporting schools through Digital Makers, creating Hackspaces, Makerspaces and an entrepreneurial ecosystem. The AI Partnership would contribute to the setting of objectives for skills development, and in monitoring the state of skills development, examining future need and current provision. It also has a role in fostering career paths and professional development and certification.

The “AI for Bradford” Partnership will help provide linkages for start-ups and SMEs to engage directly with academia and become closely connected to AI academic programmes. Start-ups and scale-ups that do not have access to data science capabilities cannot compete with tech giants for data science talent. It will be advantageous to utilise academic programmes and skilled graduate students to bridge any talent gaps.

This is beneficial for the University who are keen to provide real world challenges to its students. We need to create the environment to enable the next generation of technologists to gain industry experience and build products and solutions with exciting young start-up businesses.

Investment will be needed to spread best practice on collaborative change and increase the awareness of AI and Data within both public and private organisations and with citizens. This collective approach to skills development can create transformation and set out transferable skills that enables the labour market in AI and Data.

Innovation and Market Enablers - We need to target both public and private sector investment to support the translation of AI and Data from the research lab to the market. Agile technology and service based SMEs are a critical element in delivering deployment of AI and Data technologies as is the engagement of large scale vertical end users. Funding will be needed in innovation scale-up, in providing testing infrastructure and innovation support and in developing demonstrators such as large scale pilots operating within regulatory “sandboxes”. Securing public funding will also trigger venture capital and private investment in start-ups and SMEs that own key technologies thereby reducing investment risk.

In regulatory matters, a system’s autonomy raises unique questions around liability, fairness, risk, safety, ownership of creative content, transparency and bias which arise from decisions made by AI systems. The Partnership will seek to ensure businesses adopt common standards and approaches to the certification and validation of AI and Data based products and services, led by the national IPO and AI Standards Hub. This will enable the smooth translation of innovation into the market by enabling innovators to rapidly deploy products and services across and beyond our district.

The University of Bradford are keen to build on their research to date on the human and ethical aspects of AI. Investment would be needed to build a practical AI Ethics testbed to ensure that AI developers are well equipped in the ethical considerations required for sustainable solutions that can be used at scale by the public and private sectors. This is an area of much focus and much sought after nationally and internationally and work on this aspect will help put Bradford on the AI map.

Promoting Research – Investment will be required to improve cohesion of the innovation ecosystem, including academia-industry collaborations. This will create a leadership position in AI and Data built on a foundation of academic excellence based on industrial relevance. It will improve the rate of technology transfer and adoption of AI and Data from the lab to real world deployments. In addition, the Partnership will encourage the development of blue-sky research, by maintaining tight links with other dedicated national institutions and instruments.

Bradford District needs to find its USP (Unique Selling Point) in AI and Data. It must set its own path and ambition in a way that fits our culture, local market, skills and technical specialisations. The maintenance of a strong front end to the innovation pipeline is critical to long term future success because of the expertise it generates and the skilled workforce it creates. Innovative AI research, such as that carried out by the Space AI Unit will give the district an advantage. However, there will never be sufficient funding to develop every idea.

Careful prioritisation will ensure ideas with relevance to business, society and economic promise are funded first, whilst leaving space for blue sky disruptive ideas to be developed.

Investment will be needed in building research strength, identifying and addressing key challenges  and innovative approaches, co-ordinating and aligning research excellence across our academic institutions, identifying supporting and growing specialisations, joint road mapping and connecting research to industry and vice-versa. We will also need to invest in mission based challenges - identifying, exploring and enhancing impact on key missions and societal challenges, particularly climate change and our clean growth aspirations, connecting and translating research into public good.

Healthcare is the fastest-growing global market for AI and with our existing strengths in the health sector in the region, Bradford is well placed to become a ‘go to’ location for investment in this sector, creating new jobs and transforming health and social care delivery. A recognised strength of our region is in evaluation of digital healthcare solutions to effect system change, improve system performance and enhance patient health and wellbeing. We have Europe’s first AI-powered hospital command centre in Bradford; researchers at the city’s university have contributed expertise to analyse the influence on safety and patient health and, more widely, analysis of the effect of computerised decision support systems on healthcare professional performance and patient outcomes.

General Operation of the Partnership – There will be funding opportunities for project based activity and to develop the ecosystem but how would the Partnership operate and fund itself? There are a number of models which we need to explore with partners. Should it be informal to begin with? Do we create an independent, non-profit entity funded by charitable contributions from philanthropy and corporate entities? Should this be done at a West Yorkshire regional level? Should it focus on strategic only or include operational delivery? Many of these questions will be explored with partners and the subsequent roadmap development will set out an options appraisal on how we best take this forward. However, the strategy is clear that a partnership approach is necessary to build an effective “Front Door” for the district (to market the area nationally and internationally) and leverage and build on our considerable capabilities already in place.

Building an ecosystem like this is likely to have a far bigger long-term impact than a pure education and  skills programme on its own. We do not underestimate the amount of energy and goodwill required to support an ecosystem in the long term. Involving partners and maintaining their involvement is important (it needs to be win-win). Having clear roles and providing initial case studies will be critical. A small/agile scaling model to begin with is ideally suited to building such a partnership ecosystem.

Where will the investment come from?

The direct sources of funding for AI and Data innovation are varied, some examples outlined below:

  1. Government framework programmes & innovation support funds including SME based programmes; the British Business Bank for the growing AI sector; or the National AI Research and Innovation (R&I) Programme that will align funding programmes across UKRI Research Councils and Innovate UK, stimulating new investment in fundamental AI research; or the Future Fund: Breakthrough, a £375m UK-wide scheme to encourage private investors to co-invest with government in high-growth, innovative firms backed by a partnership innovation ecosystem. The government has committed to funding innovative firms developing AI technologies across every region of the UK and is set to publish a report in the “autumn of 2022” on addressing any significant investment gaps. We must be ready to seize these opportunities.
  2. Local Industrial and business investment in innovation who are willing to invest in developments if they can access Partnership resources such as data scientists and data programmes
  3. Partner and Private Sponsorship to support general operating costs, including in-kind resources, use of locations and facilities
  4. Angel Investment & Venture capital who are keen to support the development of prototypes at zero cost/risk to the innovator, from embryonic idea to a commercially viable product
  5. Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) – our own initial research and networking have highlighted significant opportunities to target FDI from US investors who are keen to access innovative AI and Data programmes
  6. Skills based funding for example national PhD programmes, Fellowships etc
  7. Procurements - for example specific public procurement such as transport or healthcare or smart city architecture where we will be able to solicit added value investment and partner sponsorships in AI Innovation investment

These are just some examples and represent short to medium term investments that will take multiple forms, from direct grants, competitive funds to loans and equity. What is important is that Bradford has a partnership and plan in place to successfully target these funding opportunities and is ready to act. These will be complemented by our local partnership resources and in kind commitments as well as business case led capital investments.

What is our ambition?

The “AI for Bradford” Partnership will help transform the district. Based on a reputation for high quality research with industrial impact and relevance, it will attract £millions of inward investment, drive global businesses and create jobs and develop highly qualified graduates.

What will we do?

  1. Together with our partners, we will evaluate the different partnership models and recommend the model suited to our needs, assess the investment requirements and make the economic detailed business case, develop the plan, seek and secure funding and the right collaborations to create “AI for Bradford” Partnership
  2. Work with our partners and all stakeholders to document our core principles and values for responsible and ethical use of AI innovation and deployment
  3. Fund and advertise training programs to educate the stakeholders and employees on the opportunities and importance of responsible AI practices
  4. Create a network of Business Ambassadors to spread the word more widely
  5. We will explore a pilot program to establish AI Test Lab capabilities within our existing local assets to take embryonic ideas, develop and test them in a real life scenario within an academic-business Local SMEs can benefit from a network of open innovation and effective test bed environment to new markets aiding them to develop new solutions and monetising their products.
  6. We will network at a national and international scale to create bigger markets by leveraging the European network of Living Labs and collaborating with our local academic institutions on research, development and innovation (RDI).
  7. We will develop an AI Strategy for Bradford District that puts people at its heart. We will conduct an extensive consultation with input from our people, our businesses, our public sector and our academics to help shape and set out a vision and an AI Strategy that will work for all of the district
  8. We will seek investment to catapult start-ups in AI and to provide the tools for zero cost prototyping to every bright digital idea, manage the ideas to successful venture throughout its life cycle and accelerate development to prepare validated and regulated technologies for this market
  9. We will collaborate with our local academic institutions to offer students for their final year projects through our partnership, working in local economy directly with the Council or local companies to help them to turn their ideas to successful AI ventures if they wish to explore more. This could be widened to support internships, and other skill building activities.

5 years on

What does ‘good’ look like?

  1. The “AI for Bradford” Partnership is well established, overseeing a mature innovation ecosystem, making the best use of our assets across the district, and contributing to the district being a-leader-in- innovation, developing and retaining skills and employment opportunities through the attraction and creation of highly innovative companies.
  2. Bradford is home to several new businesses, from start-ups and SMEs to larger businesses actively developing, adopting and applying AI and other 5.0 Technologies to identify new service applications, commercial products, disease diagnoses, improving health and tackling climate change. These companies have opportunities to collaborate with international partners as our reputation grows.
  3. The cutting edge research continues to secure external funding from major UK Research Councils such as EPSRC, Innovate UK, NHS (National Innovation Centre) and Industry etc
  4. Research-active clinicians and innovative SMEs collaborate on key clinical questions and ultimately solving health and social care challenges more quickly and efficiently.
  5. People from all walks of life, especially the most disadvantaged and vulnerable are participating in co-design and decision- making through our network of Living Labs to shape initiatives that benefit them.