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From Brain Science to Intelligent Machines

Centre of Excellence in Intelligent Systems

The Centre of Excellence in Intelligent Systems is a major project funded by InvestNI, the Integrated Development Fund IDF (via its facilitating body Ilex) and the University of Ulster, with a total project budget of £20.44 million. The project is located in the Intelligent Systems Research centre at the Magee campus of the University of Ulster.


The project represents an ambitious plan to assist in addressing the technological deficit of the region, by creating a world class research and development unit as a strong driver for economic regeneration. As such it will, over time, assist current efforts to re-direct the local economy towards a knowledge intensive, high technology focus, and by building a strong research base in selected strategic areas, expand employment opportunities.

The project is being led by a number of senior researchers from the Faculty of Computing and Engineering in the University of Ulster. shadow handThese staff have been successful in attracting major research funding, working in collaboration with industry and in establishing international reputations for research excellence. Among these staff are Professor Martin McGinnity, Professor of Intelligent Systems Engineering, and Director of the Intelligent Systems Research Centre and Professor Liam Maguire, Head of School of Computing and Intelligent Systems on the Magee campus.


Any industrial strategy for the north-west region of the island of Ireland must be based upon the development of high technology industries which produce products with substantial added value. Such a strategy depends critically upon the existence of the appropriate infrastructures. An essential element is the existence of a vibrant research and development capability in the region, recognised both nationally and internationally as conducting research of excellent standing. The Centre of Excellence in Intelligent Systems is working to assist in meeting this need and is a major progression form the former substantial research achievements of the Intelligent Systems Engineering Laboratory (ISEL) based at Magee.

 Why a Centre of Excellence in Intelligent Systems?
The latter half of the twentieth century witnessed the emergence of an exciting new research discipline, which can be described by the umbrella term intelligent systems. The emphasis in such research is to develop systems that attempt to mimic, albeit crudely at present, the intelligent characteristics of biological species.


Research into such systems seeks to explore what we can learn from improved understanding of the biological brain and to use this knowledge to replicate those aspects of natural systems which we would like to see in computational artifacts i.e.:



Computer systems that exhibit autonomous reasoning
Computer systems that can learn from experience
Computer systems that can self-organise to tackle complex problems
Computer systems that can adapt and evolve.



In the next 10 years, we are going to increasingly see the rapid emergence of true intelligent computational systems. Such systems will not be confined to desktop machines but will pervade everyday activities. They will be seen in consumer applications, industry, healthcare and entertainment. The potential arises by the integration of recent developments in brain science, new developments in intelligent computational algorithms, bio-inspired intelligent systems algorithms, development in neuroscience research and improved capabilities in knowledge engineering.



The objectives of the CoEIS are succinctly stated:
• To generate a world-class Centre of Excellence in Intelligent Systems;
• To energetically exploit research developments in the Centre (and elsewhere) by the integration of a business realisation unit and incubator facilities as an inherent component of the Centre's activities;
• To utilise such a research facility as a driver for economic regeneration in the region through the support of existing industry, the attraction of new industry and the nurturing of new indigenous industry;
• To weave this facility into the cultural and economic requirements of the region through the processes of education and commercial enterprise, in partnership with regional and national economic development agencies; and
• To provide an environment where the traditional barriers between research, development, commercial exploitation and innovation are removed.



Targeted Research
What is meant by an Intelligent System?
Academic researchers have debated the nature of intelligence for many decades. In the context of this proposal however, we adopt the definition specified below:


"an intelligent computational system is one which is capable of learning, reasoning, evolving and/or adapting its behaviour to meet the needs of changing circumstances, and in response to unanticipated situations for which it has had no prior programmed solution"




In this project we seek to develop the science of intelligent computational systems, for applications in industry, commerce, civic life and entertainment. Such systems will become commonplace in the coming decades and we believe that the opportunity exists to position the region at the forefront of this emerging technology.



A key objective of the current proposal is to develop a distinctive capability in the region, since this capability will enable easier identification of key competitive advantages for a focussed marketing campaign to recruit foreign direct investment (FDI). Through this project, the north-west region will become renowned as a region which:



• is at the leading edge of research into intelligent computational systems, including cognitive, medical, healthcare and entertainment robotics, autonomous systems for industrial production, and pervasive computing for civic, commercial and educational use;




• exhibits a high level of awareness of commercial opportunities offered by the integration of different technologies (e.g. computing, electronics, multimedia, neural electronics, where technologies (regardless of where the original research is performed) are quickly reviewed and protected where necessary, further funding for R&D is readily accessed, there is ready access to flexible and appropriate accommodation and where there is a pool of entrepreneurs with a science and technology focus.




The project will:


• Create an internationally recognised, technological Centre of Excellence in the north-west region to underpin the emerging computational intelligence and intelligent systems industry and act as a strong attractive force for foreign direct investment;




• Attract top quality researchers to the region and expand its reputation as a high technology regional hub;




• Underpin the economic development plans for the region in its attempt to switch from the declining textile manufacturing industries to high technology, entrepreneurial-based companies;




• Assist in the generation of a highly talented and skilled workforce, capable of generating spin-out companies that can compete in a global marketplace;




• Assist the University of Ulster its in desire to expand higher education provision in the north-west as a driver for economic regeneration;




• Complement and extend both existing and proposed technology-based initiatives for job creation, incubation and business formation in the north-west.



Project Budget: The total project budget is £20.44 million.

Principal Investigator: Professor T.M. McGinnity

Joint Grantholder: Professor Liam Maguire

Duration (Funded Phase): 1st December 2006 to 30th November 2011

Duration (Sustaianed Phase): 1st December 2011 to 30th November 2014

Funders: InvestNI, Integrated Development Fund (via ILEX), University of Ulster