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New Oxford unit created as part of ELLIS effort will assemble AI experts from across Europe


Oxford University will be home to one of 17 new ELLIS units, part of a pan-European effort to shape how machine learning and artificial intelligence will change the world. The unit’s efforts span from core theoretical underpinnings and methodologies to applications in robotics, finance, health and biology.

Made up of researchers from the Departments of Engineering Science, Computer Science and Statistics, the new unit is part of the European Laboratory for Learning and Intelligent Systems (ELLIS), a grass-roots initiative to assemble the top European talent in machine learning.

The initiative mobilizes more than €200m in funding across Europe for the next 5 years in a bid to make Europe competitive in modern Artificial Intelligence (AI). It will offer opportunities for European researchers to carry out their research within the continent, and nurture the next generation of young researchers in this strategically important field.

The group announced today the establishment of the first 17 units across 10 European countries and Israel. Built around outstanding AI researchers, the newly-established research units are devoted to tackling fundamental challenges in AI with a focus on research excellence and societal impact.

With diversity a key focus, all 17 units have committed to taking specific actions to ensure that the future of Artificial Intelligence is created by teams drawing from multiple perspectives in terms of area of expertise, seniority, gender and country of origin. 

The Oxford University unit will be led by Professors Stephen Roberts (Engineering Science), Yee Whye Theh (Statistics) and Michael Woolridge (Computer Science). Professor Wooldridge said: “AI and machine learning are major strategic priorities at Oxford, with substantial investment and expansion planned over the coming years. As such, we are delighted to be involved in ELLIS - a major and very welcome initiative that will help consolidate and develop Europe's position in this most important of research areas."

Alongside Oxford, ELLIS units will be based in Alicante, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Darmstadt, Delft, Freiburg, Helsinki, Linz, Lausanne, Leuven, Prague, Saarbrücken, Tel Aviv, Tübingen, Vienna (IST Austria) and Zürich. These locations were selected according to proven scientific excellence and the implementation of measures to foster the ELLIS mission.

Faculty of the new ELLIS units include more than 35 ERC grants, 17 ACM/IEEE (and similar) fellowships, 15 memberships of National Science and Engineering Academies, and have co-funded or contributed to at least 36 startups. Together, the first approved ELLIS units are committing well above €200m of their own budget for the first 5 years.

Their research topics include fundamental machine learning, computer vision, natural language processing, robotics, human-centric and trustworthy AI, and application areas such as environmental modelling, autonomous systems design, biology and health. All 17 units focus on modern AI, which relies heavily on machine learning methods such as deep neural networks that allow computers to learn from data and experience. ELLIS puts particular emphasis on advancing the foundations of machine learning to become more data-efficient, interpretable, robust and human-centric.

The establishment of these units is the next step towards the realization of the ELLIS vision of an intergovernmental European AI program, with multiple ELLIS institutes performing world-class multi-disciplinary research in machine learning and related areas.

The announcement was made at the 2019 Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems (NeurIPS), the leading international conference on machine learning. Professor Terrence Sejnowski, president of the Neural Information Processing Systems Foundation, said: “ELLIS has made great strides since it was first announced at NeurIPS last year, and the new network of ELLIS research units will further help catalyse European AI research and business.”


About the European Laboratory for Learning and Intelligent Systems (ELLIS)
Established on December 6th 2018 during NeurIPS 2018, the European Laboratory for Learning and Intelligent Systems (ELLIS) is a pan-European scientific organization which focuses on research and the advancement of modern AI, which relies heavily on machine learning methods such as deep neural networks that allow computers to learn from data and experience.

Earlier this year in March 2019, ELLIS established 11 research programs spanning a broad set of areas within modern AI, involving over 100 European researchers.