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UKRI Centre for Doctoral Training in Foundational AI



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The FAICDT Visit UCL East!

By sharon.betts, on 27 November 2023

On Wednesday 15th November, members of all cohorts within the FAICDT visited our Robotics labs at the newly opened UCL East Campus. Prof Dimitrios Kanoulas very kindly offered up his time and expertise in showing our students around both the Marshgate and Pool Street Labs.

Our students were able to interact with the quadra-ped robots and speak with academics and other researchers about their ground breaking work in the field of AI and robotics.

The visit to UCL East’s robotics lab was impressive. We saw the Boston Dynamics robot navigate stairs and avoid obstacles, showcasing the practical applications of these technologies. The most striking moment was seeing a robot execute a backflip, which highlighted the advanced capabilities in robotics. Dimitrios Kanoulas kindly also gave us a tour around the Marshgate building! The location’s calm park setting was a nice change from the main campus environment. – Sierra Bonilla, Cohort 5


A great time was had by all, and we are delighted that our students have been able to connect with other researchers in the AI field here at UCL.

The UKRI Inter CDT Conference 30-31 October 2023

By sharon.betts, on 22 November 2023

For the second year running, the UKRI CDT in Foundational AI, collaborated with the University of Bath and the University of Bristol to organise an inter CDT conference at the Bristol Hotel.

This year our CDT put on a session on AI Vision, organised with Prof Lourdes de Agapito, and a student-led session on the Threat of AI, organised with Reuben Adams and Robert Kirk.

The event began with a welcome to all from our FAICDT Deputy Director Gabriel Brostow, followed on by a Keynote Speech by Jasmine Grimsley and Sarah-Jane Smyth from the London Data Company.

The AI Vision session opened up the individual sessions conference on day one, and we were delighted to host three eminent academics to discuss their work and research. First we had Christian Rupprecht from the University of Oxford discussing ‘Unsupervised Computer Vision in the Time of Large Models’. He was followed on by Laura Sevilla-Lara from the University of Edinburgh, who discussed her work on ‘Efficient Video Understanding’ and the session finished with Edward Johns from Imperial College London, discussing his research on ‘Vision-Based Robot Learning of Everyday Tasks’. The room was filled with an eager audience who asked multiple questions of each speaker, with a real interest and excitement on the work that was being undertaken by all in this field.

The rest of the first day saw sessions from the other two CDTs involved, with an agenda for the event available here: UKRI Inter AI CDT Conference 2023 – ART-AI (cdt-art-ai.ac.uk)

As with our first conference, there was a popular poster session held at the MShed in the afternoon of Day 1, with prizes handed out at our evening dinner. Our new, cohort 5, student Ahmet Guzel was the winner from the FAICDT with a poster that won outstanding marks from all judges on the day.

Day two started with a keynote speech from our final year student Jakob Zeitler, who is currently on interruption whilst working on his start up company Matterhorn Studios. Jakob gave an insightful talk on ‘Machine Learning for Material Science: Using Bayesian Optimisation to Create a Sustainable Materials Future’. We were delighted to have Jakob provide a keynote here and it was wonderful to see so many individuals reach out to him after his talk to find out more about his research and work at Matterhorn.

The afternoon session by the FAICDT was led by students Reuben Adams and Robert Kirk. This was a vibrant session, asking attendees to think about where they currently sat on the spectrum of concern with regards to the safety of AI and then have in depth discussions with one another about possible AI solutions and potential regulations and possibilities for future safety. The event was interactive, and highly engaging!

The event closed with a final keynote by Steven Schokaert from Cardiff University with a networking session for all students before returning to their home institutions.

All in all, another successful event! With thanks to Brent Kiernan, Christina Squire and Suzanne Binding for being co-organisers extraordinaire!

Day Dream Believing? Thinking about World Models. By Rokas Bendikas

By sharon.betts, on 23 May 2023

I am interested in discussing an intriguing concept in machine learning, which promises to revolutionize the way we approach learning in robotics: World Models.

At a high level, World Models aim to create a compact and controllable representation of the world. Think of it as a mental simulation or an internal mini-world where AI can experiment, explore, and ‘imagine’ different scenarios, all without the need for real-world interactions. It’s like creating a sandbox game for AI, where it can learn the ropes before stepping out into the real world. 🧠🕹

Let’s contrast this with the conventional end-to-end learning methods. These traditional approaches typically require vast amounts of real-world data and intensive training, which can be time-consuming, computationally expensive, and let’s face it, data-inefficient.

That’s where the beauty of World Models shines. By allowing AI to ‘dream’ or simulate possible scenarios in their internal model of the world, they can learn faster and more efficiently. They can plan and strategize better by running various ‘what-if’ scenarios within their world model. Imagine playing chess and being able to simulate all possible moves in your mind before making your move – that’s the advantage of World Models in a nutshell! 🎲🚀

The ‘DayDreamer’ paper is a fantastic resource if you’re keen to delve into the specifics of this innovative approach. It opens up new vistas in our quest for smarter and more data-efficient learning in robotics.

In a world where data is king but also a constraint, World Models are pioneering a path towards more strategic, efficient, and thoughtful AI. So, let’s continue learning, exploring, and innovating. After all, the future of AI is as exciting as we dare to imagine!

#WorldModels #MachineLearning #DataEfficiency

Student success in G Research PhD Competition

By sharon.betts, on 16 May 2023

G Research, an industry partner and supporter of our CDT, recently ran a competition for our PhD students, summarising their PhD research field and sharing how their work is both novel and has an impact in its field.

At G-Research we value supporting talent and innovation at institutions world-wide. We were thrilled to sponsor the UCL CDT in Foundational AI PhD prize. The video submission format provided the opportunity for PhD students to present their research in a concise way. We are grateful of the chance we were given to join in on talks and the poster session at Cumberland Lodge. We look forward to repeating the experience next year and meet more of the staff and students. – Dr Charles Martinez, Academic Relations Manager

There were three prize winners overall

1st Jakob Zeitler
2nd Augustine Mavor-Parker
3rd Jake Cunningham

The standard of submission was excellent. All videos were very high quality, interesting and informative and we’re very proud of our students.

The prize is important since it has encouraged students to focus on learning the skills to communicate scientific ideas well and to a broader audience. The entries were also quite creative and we hope that all entrants found this a useful and enjoyable process.

Below is the winning entry video from Jakob Zeitler

We are delighted to that our students are excelling in their field and providing new ideas for the future of AI research.

The CDT wishes to thank G Research for its support.

Is AI trustworthy? A discussion on AI and Faith at the UKRI CDT in Foundational AI at UCL Showcase in April 2022 at Cumberland Lodge

By sharon.betts, on 3 May 2022

Is AI untrustworthy? Why? How do we build trust in AI? Can AI actually be trustworthy, or only perceived to be so?

Since the beginning of 2021 a group of students in AI and Science and Technology Studies have been running monthly discussion forums at the UCL Centre for Artificial Intelligence (AI Centre) on the big questions of how AI will influence Society, see schedule here. Naturally, most questions are rooted in the morals of the societies we live in.

Recently, we have been looking into how faith and religion influences the trust in our relationship with AI as an individual, but also as a society. We took the chance at the recent Cumberland Lodge showcase of the UKRI CDT in Foundational AI to discuss this trust relationship with the about 100 AI researchers in attendance.

We held a world café-style session, asking the following 6 questions: 

  1. Is AI untrustworthy? Why?
  2. Will AI be adopted like any other technology e.g. gene editing, steam trains?
  3. How do we build trust in AI?
  4. Can AI actually be trustworthy, or only perceived to be so?
  5. Do you think that faith has a place in a discussion on AI, ethics, and responsibility?
  6. “AI is helping us to understand God’s world. AI is bringing us closer to God.” Discuss.

These questions were placed in 6 different rooms, and the rules are that you can move between the rooms, but at least 1 person has to be in each room. 

We found that there was healthy engagement and debate, with these questions leading to discussions such as – does AI need to be reproducible and open, or does the ability to run test cases negate the need for this? And questions about what it means to consider faith and AI at all (we found that a group of people who identified as atheists were really interested in this topic and the different ways that they could engage). Others discussed whether AI could ever be trustworthy, given that humans use and create AI, and we can’t make a blanket statement that humans are trustworthy. Others opened a discussion about trusting different aspects of AI, for instance, you can trust that deepfakes work well, but also distrust them as a technology as they can impersonate high profile people and try to swing elections. 

It was really interesting to hear the interplay between some really technical discussions combined with social elements, and the way that technical solutions vs external (policy) solutions were discussed. 

In the coming months, we will continue our discussion on AI and Faith. We hope to use the grant we were given by UCL Grand Challenges to reach out beyond the AI Centre to underrepresented voices in the AI and Ethics discussion whose lives will be affected by AI. 

We are also grateful for Tyler Reinmund for joining us on the day. He runs the RTI Student Network, an international and interdisciplinary student-led organisation based at the University of Oxford with the goal of connecting students interested in topics related to responsible research and innovation. They, too, hold monthly reading groups to discuss literature from fields such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, philosophy, law, economics, and the health sciences, and facilitate work-in-progress seminars for research students.

Learn more at https://www.rti.ox.ac.uk/student-network/ or email admin-studentnetwork@cs.ox.ac.uk

If you have more questions or suggestions or are interested in more events like these inside or outside the UCL AI Centre, feel free to get in touch with us.

Jaspreet Jagdev and Jakob Zeitler

Big thanks to Stephen Hughes and Elena Falco whose support made all of this possible, and the whole UCL AI Centre team (Sharon Betts, David Barber, Lopa Murgai) for facilitating these discussions. Thanks also to Adrian Weller at Cambridge for suggesting great directions to explore; we hope to collaborate in future sessions.

Centre Updates and Forthcoming Events 

By Sharon C Betts, on 22 November 2021

The UKRI Centre for Doctoral Training in Foundational AI were delighted to welcome our third cohort of students at the start of term. We are now training 33 PhD students in foundational artificial intelligence, helping to create new algorithms and AI coding to help answer some of society’s biggest needs.  

We have slowly started to return to the Centre for Artificial Intelligence at 90 High Holborn and the purchase of a table tennis table and a table football table has certainly provided some welcome light relief between serious study. The idea of league tables and leader boards has been mooted, so watch this space! 

We are incredibly proud of our space in Holborn and the CDT itself and have been working with UCL media services to create a promotional video, highlighting the CDT and AI Centre. We were incredibly fortunate to have students and staff give up their time to share their experiences and journey at UCL and are really excited to see the finished product.  

One of the aims of the video is to encourage new applicants from existing MSc students around the United Kingdom. The UKRI Centre for Doctoral Training in Foundational AI is funded by the EPSRC and aims to create the next generation of UK AI creators and innovators.  The UK government has released an ambitious National AI Strategy of building upon our rich cultural history in machine learning to lead the field of next generation AI and AI driven industry.  Applications are now being accepted for the 2022 entry, so please do share this information with any interested parties.  

What makes the CDT stand out from other PhD providers is the cohort activities and events that are planned throughout the year for our students.  These include weekly seminars with guest speakers, workshops, training, internship opportunities and equality, diversity and inclusion events.  This calendar year we have put on event to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community, Women in AI, supporting the black community in AI and we end with #WeThe15 in AI, an event to raise the voices of those within the disabled community.  

Our event will take place virtually on 2nd December from 1pm-5pm and tickets are available now via Eventbrite: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/207803364457  

Poster for event We The 15 in AI


We are delighted to provide a platform for those who have lived experiences as part of the disabled community, as well as those doing ground-breaking research to provide technological solutions to human problems.

Our keynote speaker is Professor Catherine Holloway (UCL), Academic Director, Global Disability Innovation Hub.

Schedule of events 

13:00 Welcome 

13:05 Presentation by Luis Canto E Castro from City Maas – a company that uses AI to help wheelchair users navigate city landscapes 

13:30 Presentation William Dudley, Imperial College London – An AI research student at Imperial College London who has cerebral palsy and will share his lived experience as a member of the disabled community and researching in AI 

13:55 Presentation Prof Marie Schaer & Dr Thomas Maillart, University of Geneva – Looking at their recent paper using AI image processing to help diagnose autism in young children.  

14:20 Panel -Autism and AI 

Chair Alice Renard, Autistic Society, UCL 

Panellists: Suzanna Chen (Autistic Society, UCL), Luke Muschialli (Autistic Society, UCL), Dr Larissa Romualdo Suzuki (Head of Data and AI, Google Cloud), Dr Joe Mintz (Institute of Education, UCL), Prof Marie Schaer (University of Geneva) and Dr Thomas Maillart (University of Geneva) 

15:15 Key Note: Prof Catherine Holloway, UCL – “Disability Innovation: AI and Assistive Technologies”  

15:40 Panel: AI-Powered Disability Innovation  

Chair: Daniel Hajas, GDI Hub Innovation Manager at GDI Hub 

Panellists: Mr Klaus Höckner, CEO, Austrian Association for Blind and Visually Impaired, Mr Bernard Chiira, Director at Innovate Now, Co-Founder Inclusive Education Network, Prof Aldo Faisal, Imperial College London 

More panellists TBC 

16:35 Presentation by Prof Aldo Faisal, Imperial College London – “AI for Disabilities: from Assistive Technology to Human Augmentation” 

17:05 Closing remarks 


 Please do register for this event and let us know what other events you would like us to share with you.

Welcome to our blog!

By Sharon C Betts, on 18 November 2021

Welcome to the blog for the UKRI Centre for Doctoral Training in Foundational Artificial Intelligence.

Our aim with this blog is to inform the wider world of our research, ourselves and our ambitions in helping create new algorithms and foundational practices in artificial intelligence to help deliver the UK National Strategy in artificial intelligence.

Our CDT is one of 16 UKRI funded CDT’s focusing on artificial intelligence and building on the UK’s history of excellence with machine learning.

The UKRI CDT in Foundational AI sits within UCL’s Centre for Artificial Intelligence in the heart of London and helps bring together some of the best minds in the field of machine learning, natural language processing, robotics, deep learning and reinforcement learning (and so much more!)

We look forward to letting you know more about us and what we are doing to help forward the research in artificial intelligence and create new frontiers in research.