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Doctoral Training Centre for next generation of AI experts established at York

Posted on 31 October 2023

The University of York is one of 16 universities to receive funding for a new Doctoral Training Centre in artificial intelligence (AI) to train the next generation of researchers and innovators.

The York centre will focus on the lifelong safety assurance of increasingly autonomous systems

The York Centre will specialise in developing a safe and trustworthy future for AI, whilst other centres will look at AI in healthcare, agriculture, impacts on media, and environmental sustainability amongst other things. 

The investment, a total of £117 million, awarded by the UKRI to 12 doctoral training centres, aims to ensure that the UK has the skills needed to seize the potential of the AI era and to nurture talent that will push the AI field forward in a responsible way.

Safe AI

Professor Ibrahim Habli, Research Director of the Assuring Autonomy International Programme at the Institute for Safe Autonomy, and the new Director of the doctoral training centre, said: “The Government is championing safe AI, envisioning a bright future for the UK both in terms of innovation and regulation. One question of particular significance is how safe are we from AI right now? 

“The important thing to emphasise here is that we already have systems and methodologies in place to address issues of safety, which means we don't need to reinvent the wheel, giving the UK a headstart on safe AI.

“Our new doctoral training centre will give PhD students - the future generation of AI professionals - the opportunity to explore this very question, which will help ensure that we have a responsible approach to AI technologies as we go forward.”

Transform lives

The UKRI AI Centre for Doctoral Training in Lifelong Safety Assurance of AI-enabled Autonomous Systems (SAINTS), will see its first cohort of students start in the 2024/2025 academic year, recruitment for which will begin shortly. 

UKRI Chief Executive, Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser, said: “The UK is in a strong position to harness the power of AI to transform many aspects of our lives for the better. Crucial to this endeavour is nurturing the talented people and teams we need to apply AI to a broad spectrum of challenges, from healthy aging to sustainable agriculture, ensuring its responsible and trustworthy adoption.”

This announcement came on the eve of the AI Safety Summit, being hosted at Bletchley Park from Wednesday 1 – Thursday 2 November, where policy-makers and experts in the field will look at frontier AI technologies and address the benefits and risks that it has to offer. 


Secretary of State Michelle Donelan said: “The UK is at the very front of the global race to turn AI’s awesome potential into a giant leap forward for people’s quality of life and productivity at work, all while ensuring this technology works safely, ethically and responsibly.

“The plans we are announcing today will future-proof our nation’s skills base, meaning we can reap the benefits of AI as it continues to develop. At the same time, we are taking the first steps to put the power of this technology to work, for good, across Government and society.”

The York centre will focus on the lifelong safety assurance of increasingly autonomous systems in dynamic and uncertain contexts, building on methodologies and concepts in disciplines spanning AI, safety science, philosophy, law and the social sciences. 

New generation

It will bring together students from a diversity of backgrounds and sectors to deliver a new generation of experts who make leading contributions to the safety of AI.

Professor Habli said: "Robots and autonomous systems are already part of our everyday lives, from robot vacuum cleaners and lawn mowers to grocery delivery robots to the AI within our phones. This year, however,  a global report showed that three out of five people are wary of AI. At the new training centre we will look at what is causing this disconnect and how we can satisfy the big question at the heart of AI alarm - 'is it safe?'."

For more information on the UKRI AI Centre for Doctoral Training in Lifelong Safety Assurance of AI-enabled Autonomous Systems (SAINTS) email:

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