Department of Informatics


Inspired by Nature: Funding success will support the ‘the next generation of leaders in AI’

Professor Thomas Nowotny

The School of Engineering and Informatics has won a prestigious and sizeable long-term funding grant to help expand its pioneering work developing Artificial Intelligence (AI) inspired by nature.

The Leverhulme Trust Board has awarded the University of Sussex a Doctoral Scholarships Grant of £1.35 million for ‘be.AI’ - biomimetic embodied Artificial Intelligence.

The award will fund 15 doctoral scholarships over six years under a project managed by Thomas Nowotny, Professor of Informatics, and which is complemented by three scholarships funded by the Sussex Doctoral School. The first group of six doctoral scholars are expected to commence their studies in autumn 2021.

The funding will be used to train a cohort of researchers who will explore the shortcomings of current AI systems and develop next generation AI that emulates biological intelligence by interrogating a deeper understanding of how brains, bodies and environments interact.

Their work will build on the interdisciplinary body of research at Sussex in biomimetic embodied AI, which laid the foundation for this focused doctoral training centre. Students will be co-supervised by supervisors from a variety of Schools and Departments beyond Engineering and Informatics, including Life Sciences, Psychology and Media, Arts and Humanities.

Prof Nowotny, director of be.AI, said: “I am delighted that the be.AI doctoral training centre can go ahead, continuing the tradition of truly inter-disciplinary work between biology and AI that originally attracted myself and my be.AI co-directors, Professor Andy Philippides and Professor Paul Graham, to join Sussex. We are looking forward to training the next generation of leaders in AI and encouraging this particular ethos.”

Professor Ian Wakeman, Interim Head of the School of Engineering and Informatics, said: “We are excited to have won the competition for a doctoral training grant in the area of AI, which is a particular research strength in the School of Engineering and Informatics. It is a very welcome step in our strategic plan to build a leading centre in AI research.”

Sussex is one of 10 UK universities to receive the awards of £1.35 million each. Founded in 1925, the Leverhulme Trust is amongst the largest all-subject providers of research funding in the UK with annual funding of some £100 million.

The University was also successful in 2017 with a Leverhulme Doctoral Scholarship Programme, which was used to fund the From Sensation and Perception to Awareness project co-directed by Professor Jamie Ward and Professor Anil Seth.

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By: Neil Vowles
Last updated: Wednesday, 9 December 2020

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