Eric and Wendy Schmidt fund Cambridge effort to spread AI skills

Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt

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Schmidt Futures, the philanthropic foundation set up by billionaires Eric and Wendy Schmidt, is funding a new program at the University of Cambridge that’s designed to equip young researchers with machine learning and artificial intelligence skills that have the potential to accelerate their research.

The initiative — known as the Accelerate Program for Scientific Discovery — will initially be aimed at researchers in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine. However, it will eventually be available for those studying arts, humanities and social science.

Some 32 PhD students will receive machine-learning training through the program in the first year, the university said, adding that the number will rise to 160 over five years. The aim is to build a network of machine-learning experts across the university.

“Machine learning and AI are increasingly part of our day-to-day lives, but they aren’t being used as effectively as they could be, due in part to major gaps of understanding between different research disciplines,” Professor Neil Lawrence, a former Amazon director who will lead the program, said in a statement.

“This program will help us to close these gaps by training physicists, biologists, chemists and other scientists in the latest machine learning techniques, giving them the skills they need.”

The scheme will be run by four new early-career specialists, who are in the process of being recruited.

The Schmidt Futures donation will be used partly to pay the salaries of this team, which will work with the university’s Department of Computer Science and Technology and external companies.  

Guest lectures will be provided by research scientists at DeepMind, the London-headquartered AI research lab that was acquired by Google.  

The size of the donation from Schmidt Futures has not been disclosed.

“We are delighted to support this far-reaching program at Cambridge,” said Stuart Feldman, chief scientist at Schmidt Futures, in a statement. “We expect it to accelerate the use of new techniques across the broad range of research as well as enhance the AI knowledge of a large number of early-stage researchers at this superb university.”

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