Microsoft has given the UK’s national data science centre $5 million of cloud computing services in a bid to make the country a global leader in technology, defence, health and engineering.
The Alan Turing Institute, which uses its research to help public and private organisations solve problems and achieve their goals, aims to use the Microsoft Azure credits to analyse vast amounts of data quicker and improve computers’ ability to understand human language.
“The Turing is a unique place where researchers from the world’s top universities come together to push the boundaries of data science,” said Jeannette Wing, Corporate Vice-President of Microsoft Research. “This partnership with the Alan Turing Institute is a prime example of how Microsoft is investing in the global data science research ecosystem, and we look forward to seeing the results of this collaboration.”
Dr Kenji Takeda, Director of the Azure for Research program at Microsoft Research, will be at The Turing every week to develop further collaborative research opportunities and to assist with Azure training for researchers and students.
The Turing will join more than 1,000 customers who have already signed up to use Microsoft’s cloud computing services from its new UK data centres that were opened at the beginning of September.
Joseph Sirosh, Corporate Vice-President of the Data Group at Microsoft, added: “We are proud to be working closely with the Turing to show how AI, machine learning and data science can be applied in novel ways to real-world problems. We are excited to be enabling researchers to do their best work by providing access to the state-of-the-art capabilities in Microsoft Azure.”
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Chris Russell, a Research Fellow in computer vision and machine learning at the Turing, is producing lifelike 3D models from 2D video footage. The research could be used to improve driverless cars and robotic surgery.
“Cloud computing is useful in data science research because we often spend a lot of time thinking and coding, and then we have a short window where we want to use a lot of computation power to immediately test our ideas, before we go back to thinking again,” he said.
“Even though the code I produce is fast enough to run on a home laptop, in order to get the best 3D reconstructions on a wide range of videos I may need to rerun the code hundreds of thousands of times. This kind of fluctuating need for computation is a great match for the cloud, which lets me run these large -scale experiments in the time it takes to drink a cup of coffee.”
Other research the Turing has contributed to includes finding a link between bad weather and chronic pain, which could help medical professionals develop better treatments for a range of conditions.
Andrew Blake, Director of the Alan Turing Institute, said: “Azure cloud services will provide our data scientists with an easily accessible platform where they can prototype ideas with a fast turnaround of results, complementing local computing facilities available in The Turing’s five founding universities, and national resources such as the supercomputer ARCHER supported by the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council [EPSRC].
“We are delighted that Microsoft is enabling access to Azure cloud services, and supporting this crucial element of our research infrastructure.”
The Turing is a joint venture founded by the universities of Cambridge, Edinburgh, Oxford, University College London and Warwick, and the EPSRC.