The University of Bristol has a long tradition of excellence in Artificial Intelligence, with research groups in Engineering dating back to the 1970s and 1980s. Now all these traditions have converged to form the Intelligent Systems Laboratory (ISL), a leading research unit counting 12 members of staff (four professors) and about 50 PhD students and postdocs.
Research activities include foundational work in machine learning (many of the ISL members work in this central area of research), and applications to web intelligence, machine translation, bioinformatics, semantic image analysis, robotics, as well as natural intelligent systems. Example ISL projects include:
- tracking of flu levels in the UK by monitoring the contents of Twitter;
- constantly translating and analyzing the content of hundreds of EU newspapers in 23 languages, in order to discover patterns in their content;
- analyzing protein sequences to understand their evolutionary history;
- analyzing genes that may be related to cancer;
- predicting the risk of river floods;
- automating the design of scientific experiments;
- designing new robots;
- modeling the behavior of insect colonies, as well as decision making in human brains.
Besides these applications, research in ISL is a key enabler in a number of strategic research directions. Data Science is one of the main frontiers for modern AI, dealing with vast masses of data, both enabling their exploitation and benefiting from them (the Exabytes Informatics theme). Another key frontier for intelligent systems research is interacting with modern biology, both taking inspiration by it, and providing tools for it (Predictive Life Sciences theme). ISL research is also closely connected to research taking place at the Bristol Robotics Lab. Members of ISL are also deeply involved with the Bristol Centre for Complexity Sciences.
Bristol has a long-standing tradition in engineering and innovation. The historical photograph below depicts the Merchant Venturers Building about a century ago. Today the building houses the ISL.
Research in the general area of intelligent systems also has a long history in Bristol, dating back to the 1940s when cybernetics pioneers Gray Walter and Ross Ashby were based in the city (at the Burden Institute, now part of Frenchay hospital). In this university, it dates back at least to the arrival of Richard Gregory from Edinburgh in 1970, and in the Faculty of Engineering at least to the early work of Jim Baldwin in Engineering Mathematics (late 1970s), and then to the creation of research groups in Computer Science (early 1980s). The groups in the 2 departments grew throughout the 1980s and 1990s, to include research in logic programming, uncertainty modeling, computer vision, neural networks, genetic algorithms, and robotics.
The creation of a single laboratory, based in a single building and with a dedicated space for students, is an important step in a direction that had started with the creation of many joint activities linking the various groups. Students and staff meet weekly over pizza at IS-LabMeet to informally discuss new research directions and external seminars are held regularly.