School of Mathematics

Big day for big data: the Alan Turing Institute

The new Alan Turing Institute, to be based in London at a site adjacent to the British Library, will guide the development and use of advanced mathematics and computational science for handling 'Big Data' - the collection and analysis of vast quantities of data for the good of humankind.

The School of Mathematics will join with computer scientists at Edinburgh University, as well as partners at 4 other major UK universities (Cambridge, Oxford, UCL and Warwick) in realising the vision of the Alan Turing Institute as the UK's hub for new research in data science.

As Rt Hon Dr Vince Cable (Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills) said, in announcing the award,  “Alan Turing’s genius played a pivotal role in cracking the codes that helped us win the Second World War. It is therefore only right that our country’s top universities are chosen to lead this new institute named in his honour. Headed by the universities of Cambridge, Edinburgh, Oxford, Warwick and UCL - the Alan Turing Institute will attract the best data scientists and mathematicians from the UK and across the globe to break new boundaries in how we use big data in a fast moving, competitive world.” 

The delivery of the Institute is being managed by the UK's Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), which supports postgraduate training and state-of-the-art research across the UK. The Alan Turing Institute will be developed over five years with £42 million from the UK government. The selected university partners are to contribute further funding, and  the Institute will join with other business and government bodies to ensure that the Institute's work has direct relevance to the UK economy and the social good.  Professor Philip Nelson, EPSRC’s Chief Executive said: “The Alan Turing Institute will draw on the best of the best academic talent in the country. It will use the power of mathematics, statistics, and computer science to analyze Big Data in many ways, including the ability to improve online security. Big Data is going to play a central role in how we run our industries, businesses and services. Economies that invest in research are more likely to be strong and resilient; the Alan Turing Institute will help us be both.”

Edinburgh's mathematicians will contribute in several areas, including statistical foundations for the analysis of large data sets, operational research and optimization methods, numerical methods and simulation techniques for high performance computing, and concepts from analysis and probability theory.  As has been demonstrated time and again, mathematics provides fundamental, game-changing insight into complex problems.   Mathematical challenges lie at the heart of problems in data science, including the development of new optimization algorithms, statistical tools and mathematical models capable of handling massive datasets arising in all branches of knowledge. Concrete applications include the prediction of behavior of dynamical systems subject to measurements, automatic classification of images, speech recognition, text categorization and revenue management.  The School of Mathematics is working closely with its partners in informatics, as well as with other areas of science and engineering, as part of Edinburgh Data Science, a broad-based initiative that will bring together experts in all areas to address the scientific, legal, social and economic issues raised by data science.  The Alan Turing Institute will complement and expand our existing efforts in this area.

The Head of School Iain Gordon said: "The Alan Turing Institute is an exciting opportunity for mathematicians at the University of Edinburgh to be part of one of the most exciting revolutions of our generation in science, engineering, and beyond.  We look forward to taking up a central role in the institute and to having the chance to collaborate with a great variety of researchers from other disciplines, as well industrial and governmental partners, to realise the extraordinary promise of data science research."