Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Artificial intelligence research

AHRC’s artificial intelligence (AI) research covers a wide range of arts and humanities disciplines.

AHRC is helping to grow the UK’s capability and capacity in AI by:

  • building a thriving and inclusive working environment
  • supporting the development of future AI technologies. These technologies will address societal, economic and environmental world challenges.
Partners involved:
Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)

The scope and what we're doing

AHRC is currently supporting:

  • two major, multi-year programmes related to AI
  • a set of one-year projects focused on building networks and scoping future research related to AI ethics
  • a multitude of projects that have arisen through responsive mode funding.

Enabling a responsible AI ecosystem

This is a three-year programme (2022 to 2025) that aims to create a virtuous circle which:

  • connects policy and practice through collaborative research
  • incentivises responsible and ethical innovations in the development, deployment and use of AI and data-driven technologies to increase public understanding, trust and acceptance.

The programme aims to foster an AI ecosystem that supports the UK’s transition to an AI-enabled economy. This will result in growth, prosperity and mutual benefit for sectors and the public.

The programme will be led by a programme director in partnership with the Ada Lovelace Institute. Programme activities will harness the UK’s strengths in responsible AI, from humanities, arts and social sciences, through to engineering and computer science. This will:

  • support cutting-edge research at the interfaces between sectors and disciplines
  • connect researchers from a range of disciplines with relevant stakeholders in policy (including but not limited to regulatory bodies and standards organisations) and industry.

The programme will include funds dedicated to:

  • ecosystem support, identifying and filling gaps in knowledge and skills to further develop the impact and reach of the programme
  • Collaborative Research Fellowships, seeking to broaden the available research evidence on key issues in the ethics and responsible innovation agenda
  • Ethical AI Demonstrators, embedding ethical and responsible approaches at the earliest stages of the AI research and development pipeline to positively transform industry practices.

This investment is part of the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) AI Programme, which is stimulating multi-disciplinary collaboration to strengthen the UK’s leading position in AI across the research and innovation landscape.

It is delivering the recommendations set out in the UKRI statement of opportunities on AI which are aligned to the government’s National AI Strategy.

Collaborative research fellowships and ethical AI demonstrators will be awarded through funding rounds in 2023 to 2024 and 2024 to 2025.

Living with machines

This is a five-year research project in which the industrial revolution is explored with the resources of the information revolution.

It is devising powerful new data tools for working with archives at scale, using the 21st century’s most cutting-edge data science to reveal the impact of the most advanced technology of the 19th Century on lives and society.

The project is a collaboration between the:

  • Alan Turing Institute
  • British Library
  • Universities of Cambridge, East Anglia, Exeter, and London (Kings College and QMUL) supported by the Strategic Priorities Fund.

Currently in its fourth year, the team have devised new methods in data science and AI that can be applied to historical resources, producing tools and software to analyse digitised collections at scale for the first time.

AHRC also supports AI research projects linked to the creative economy, such as MIMIC (2018 to 2021), a project run by teams at Goldsmiths College, Durham University and the University of Sussex, that created a platform for generating art and music using AI.

Why we're doing it

By building a thriving and inclusive environment for people from across sectors and disciplines to work together, we are helping to grow the UK’s capability and capacity in AI.

This research is supporting the development of the AI technologies of the future and as a technology that:

  • the public can trust
  • businesses will adopt
  • will address the societal, economic and environmental challenges facing the world today.

Programmes within AHRC’s AI portfolio also make important contributions to our organisational objectives.

Enabling a responsible AI ecosystem

This programme will address a key contemporary challenge in the sphere of AI and data ethics and regulation. It has been developed to align with the recommendations of the National AI Strategy.

We want the development and deployment of AI and related data-driven technologies to be responsible, ethical and accountable by default. This means that the regulations, standards and policies that govern them need to incentivise these practices in ways that:

  • foster innovation
  • provide benefits to UK Plc and its publics.

We expect the programme to enable a step-change in how responsible and ethical approaches to AI and data-driven technologies are perceived and how they are applied to positively transform commercial, business-led and public-facing endeavours.

Living with machines

This programme is unlocking the potential of cultural assets through its radical model of collaboration and multidisciplinarity.

The project is devising new research methods to allow computational linguists and historians to track societal and cultural change in new ways. It is also producing its own historical findings, as well as releasing open source tools and methods that can be reused not only for digital research in the humanities, but also in other fields.

For example, the project released  Structured Timeline of Passenger Stations in Great Britain (StopsGB), a dataset of 12,000 geolocated rail stations. This will be a key resource for future research on the impact of the rail system in Great Britain.

The dataset is available on the British Library research repository. Through its extensive digitisation effort, the project has also made a major contribution to a set of one million ‘free to view’ out of copyright newspapers through the British Newspaper Archive.

A collaborative exhibition at Leeds City Museum in summer 2022 will incorporate key themes and early findings and outcomes from the project, raising public awareness of how digital research in the humanities can enhance understanding of history.

The team has also co-authored a short book, to be published in late 2022, sharing the lessons gained from undertaking a large, highly collaborative project at the interface between history, data science and cultural heritage.

This book will form part of the project’s legacy. It also complements ongoing engagement with the wider digital humanities sector through educational sessions and workshops aiming to improve training and understanding of digital humanities in the UK.

Opportunities, support and resources available

AHRC standard research grant

You can apply for a standard research grant at any time.

Standard (sometimes known as ‘responsive’) funding opportunities are open to a wide range of research and approaches within AHRC’s remit.

There are opportunities to explore arts and humanities research related to artificial intelligence within AHRC’s standard mode funding, such as networking grants, large research grants and fellowships. All of these operate without formal deadlines so proposals can be submitted at any time.

Last updated: 5 January 2024

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