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Cambridge Language Sciences

Interdisciplinary Research Centre
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A new language sciences related project on improving language equity is one of five winners of AI-deas funding supporting artificial intelligence innovations to address critical societal issues.

Dr Matt Davis, Cambridge Language Sciences co-Director and Programme Leader at the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit (MRC-CBU), will lead a project called ‘Improving language equity and inclusion through AI’. The interdisciplinary team centred around Cambridge Language Sciences will bring together researchers from across the University including the MRC-CBU, computer science, psychology, linguistics, education, and engineering.

The aim is to build tools to assess language and communication abilities and provide tools and technologies to support people that find communicating through language more challenging.

The winners of the challenge - called AI-deas - have been selected by ai@ cam: the University of Cambridge’s new flagship mission to drive AI innovation that benefits science, citizens and society. They will receive seed funding to get off the ground and support to scale their impact.

Improving language equity and inclusion through AI

Using language to communicate is something many take for granted. However, a significant proportion of the UK population find spoken or written communication more difficult due to sensory, neural or linguistic challenges such as hearing loss, brain injury or language barriers; they can face substantial disadvantages in many aspects of their lives.

This project aims to develop new AI methods to understand and address these challenges to improve equity and inclusion. It will develop new ways to support people with language and communication difficulties. For example, with AI we can assess and diagnose common language and communication conditions at scale, and develop technologies such as intelligent hearing aids, real-time machine translation, or other language aids to support affected individuals at home, work or school.

Matt Davis, AI-deas challenge lead, said: "New AI technologies are changing our day-to-day lives: we speak rather than type text messages on our phones, and have conversations with Alexa or Siri. As these systems become more common they may reinforce the barriers faced by those who find communicating through language more difficult.

Cambridge University hosts the UK’s largest community of researchers working on speech and language technology and have a remarkable breadth and depth of expertise in understanding the real-world impact of language challenges in education, health or work. This project brings these research communities together to develop new AI technologies to support people who find communicating using language a daily challenge in order to improve equity and inclusion."

About ai@cam

ai@cam is University of Cambridge's flagship mission on AI, created to drive a new wave of AI innovation for the benefit of science, citizens and society. Through research funding, partnerships within and outside of the university, and education, ai@cam aims to more powerfully connect what happens in the university lab to the outside world. AI-deas is ai@cam’s first major initiative. 

Each AI-deas project exemplifies the public value ai@cam champions in artificial intelligence research, by being interdisciplinary by design, grounded in real world need, and having a clear plan for cross-sectoral collaboration with external stakeholders – such as affected communities, public sector, industry and NGOs.

Professor Anne Ferguson-Smith, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research at University of Cambridge, and Steering Group member of ai@cam said: “These are exactly the kinds of ambitious projects that are vital to delivering AI that serves society, but too often are neglected in the traditional funding landscape, because they require intensive collaboration across disciplines. I’m thrilled we have a mechanism for enabling them. Cambridge is already home to some of the most groundbreaking AI research, and AI-deas encourages further creativity and innovative thinking in this area.“

AI-deas is ai@cam’s first major initiative, and will form part of a wider programme designed to deliver on the University’s AI mission. Through research funding, partnerships within and outside of the university, and education, ai@cam will more powerfully connect what happens in the university lab to the outside world.

Neil Lawrence, DeepMind Professor of Machine Learning and Chair of ai@cam said: “The positive response we’ve had to the AI-deas initiative proves there’s a vibrant community of researchers across all career levels who are passionate about connecting AI to public interest. AI has the potential to drive progress on the things that actually matter to people. The selected projects in this round of funding show how we can make that happen - for instance, bringing experts in machine learning, fertility and infant neurodevelopment together in a shared mission.”

Diane Coyle, and Bennett Professor of Public Policy at the University of Cambridge and Steering Group member of ai@cam said: “AI innovation is often perceived as being driven by business. While a wealth of exciting work is coming from leading AI companies, they are not going to solve society’s biggest challenges themselves. Interdisciplinary AI research is vital to bridge from technological advances to public value.  AI-deas aims to build some of those bridges.”

READ MORE: AI-deas launch


What we do

Cambridge Language Sciences is an Interdisciplinary Research Centre at the University of Cambridge. Our virtual network connects researchers from five schools across the university as well as other world-leading research institutions. Our aim is to strengthen research collaborations and knowledge transfer across disciplines in order to address large-scale multi-disciplinary research challenges relating to language research.