Vision to make Edinburgh the ‘data capital of Europe’

EDINBURGH’S future public service provision could be determined by artificial intelligence - after University researchers were handed £60m in funding to explore how data could shape the future of the Capital.

Friday, 1st March 2019, 5:00 am
Key stakeholders of the ESES City Region Deal visited the site of the Edinburgh Futures Institute, one of five DDI hubs being created through CRD investment. Pic: Neil Hanna Photography

The Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal Joint Committee is expected to approve a final business case for the Edinburgh Futures Institute (EFI) at a meeting today, which will see more than 350 organisations work together to plan for the ‘city of tomorrow’.

It means everything from the number of homes and schools to be built to the expansion of the Capital’s public transport network could soon be influenced by AI.

EFI, based at the former Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, is one of five Data-Driven Innovation (DDI) hubs to receive funding as part of the £1.3bn city region deal - an agreement between the UK and Scottish governments and local authorities across the Lothians to invest in the area’s future.

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It aims to transform the city into the ‘data capital of Europe,’ while also committing to providing infrastructure and public services for the future.

Edinburgh is already home to technology hothouse CodeBase, travel website Skyscanner and has a growing fintech sector.

US fantasy sports firm FanDuel, which has now merged with Paddy Power’s US business, was founded in Edinburgh.

Leeann Dempster, chair of the Edinburgh and South East Scotland city region deal regional enterprise council, said: “The challenge is to harness the revolution in data, digital and artificial intelligence in ways that benefits people across our region.”

She added: “The opportunity couldn’t be greater. Data-driven innovation can be at the heart of improved public services for everyone and giving people access to new skills, opportunities and careers.”

The deal also plans to invest around £65m for new housing, £120m for a flyover at the Sheriffhall roundabout, £20m for roads in West Edinburgh and £20m for a new 1000-seater concert hall off St Andrew Square.

Infrastructure Secretary, Michael Matheson said: “I am delighted to see the Data Driven Innovation programme take another step forward with the approval of the Edinburgh Futures Institute business case.”

“Using £300 million of Scottish Government investment, the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal is designed to deliver inclusive economic growth, providing opportunities and distributing the benefits fairly across the entire region.”

EFI’s Director, Professor Lesley McAra, said that fast moving developments in data, digital and artificial intelligence create both opportunities and challenges for society. Universities therefore have a duty to place their research and teaching in the service of communities, industry and government.

Professor McAra continued: “We aim to ensure that data-driven innovation is carried out with deep regard for its ethical implications and corresponding impact on individuals, communities, and society as a whole.”