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March 20, 2014

UK Invests Millions in Turing-Inspired Research Institute

Tiffany Trader

The UK government has set up a £42 million research institute, named in honor of World War 2 code-breaking genius Alan Turing, to bolster the nation’s position in big data and algorithm research. Chancellor George Osborne announced the strategic investment during his March 19 Budget speech.

The Alan Turing Institute for Data Science will receive £42 million over five years. The aim of the institute is to keep Britain at the forefront of data science and enable cutting-edge research in an environment that brings together theory and practical application.

“The intention is for the work to benefit British companies to have an advantage in big data,” a spokesperson for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said.

Alan Turing was a mathematician, logician and cryptographer who was famous for his work as a World War 2 code breaker. While at Bletchley Park, he played a crucial role in breaking German naval messages enciphered with the Enigma machine.

Turing was also a pioneer in the development of algorithms and modern computers, and his legacy lives on today with the eponymous test he created in 1950. The Turing test evaluates a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behavior such that it is indistinguishable from a human.

A gay man, Turing was convicted of homosexuality in the 1950s, which had yet to be decriminalised in the UK. He was subsequently forced to take female hormones, a form of chemical castration, and later committed suicide.

Turing received a posthumous pardon under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy by the Queen on December 24, 2013, following a long public campaign to clear his name.

Mr. Osborne said: “Now, in his honour, we will found the Alan Turing Institute to ensure Britain leads the way again in the use of big data and algorithm research. I am determined that our country is going to out-compete, outsmart and outdo the rest of the world.”

The Institute will be closely aligned with other e-infrastructure and big data efforts across the UK research base, including the Open Data Institute, Catapult Network, ARCHER and the Hartree Centre.

Universities and Science Minister David Willetts said, “The pioneering work carried out at the Institute will be a fitting tribute to Alan Turing.”

The national institute will focus on new ways of collecting, organizing and analyzing large sets of data, under the heading of big data research. It is widely thought that such analysis can help industry be more effective through the honing of marketing and services.

The independent Centre for Economics and Business Research forecasts that the UK’s big data market could be worth as much as £216 billion by 2017, creating some 58,000 new jobs. As well, a recent report from Deloitte estimates that public sector information could add £1.8 billion per year to the UK economy, with wider social and economic benefits raising the total to £6.8 billion.

Additional evidence of big data’s competitive value comes from the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (Nesta), which found that data-savvy firms are 40 percent more likely to launch products and services ahead of their non-data-minded counterparts.