Baillie Gifford pledges £5m to support Edinburgh university research on data and AI

Nick Thomas

Global investment firm Baillie Gifford has pledged £5 million to support research into the ethical challenges posed by the growing use of data and artificial intelligence.

A research programme based at the University of Edinburgh will address pressing concerns around emerging technologies, including machine learning, accelerated automation, and financial innovation.

The firm said the pledge reflects its support for the university’s belief that data and AI can make a positive impact on people’s lives in the UK and globally.

Areas of investigation, for example, could include the use and regulation of personal data by industry and government, understanding and mitigating the impact of increased automation on the job market, and the challenge of building an ethical framework for introducing driverless cars onto public roads.

Research from the programme will be independent from government but will help to inform policy, laws, and industry standards.

The gift will create the Baillie Gifford Chair and Research Programme into Data and AI Ethics at the University of Edinburgh.

The firm’s support also extends to a new senior research fellowship, up to 18 PhD students over the next decade, and an annual flagship lecture.

Nick Thomas, partner at Baillie Gifford, said: “The University of Edinburgh is a global leader in artificial intelligence and data science, and Baillie Gifford is glad to support its research into the ethics of AI.

“We hope that our close collaboration with academics at the cutting edge of transformative technologies will accelerate the pace of research and bring tangible benefits to society.”

Professor Peter Mathieson, principal and vice-chancellor of the University of Edinburgh, said: “Technology has advanced at a speed that our existing legal and regulatory systems have struggled to match. Societies are only now coming to terms with big data and AI’s revolutionary effect.

“This technology is not going away. We need new ways of thinking about how we integrate and manage it, to ensure that it benefits everyone. This generous gift from Baillie Gifford is a visionary step towards helping us achieve this goal.”

The new programme will be based at the university’s Edinburgh Futures Institute (EFI), which will open in the city’s former Royal Infirmary in 2021.

EFI director Professor Lesley McAra said: “EFI is extremely grateful for the very generous donation made by Baillie Gifford. At EFI we aim to harness the fast-moving developments in data and artificial intelligence for social benefit. In doing so our research and education will address important questions about the conditions needed to support human flourishing.

“Public trust and confidence is fundamental to building solutions for the myriad ethical and regulatory challenges posed by new technologies. The Ballie Gifford donation supports our strong commitment to meeting such challenges and harnesses the University’s centuries-long expertise in ethics.”

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