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2023 Research Funding Top Trends 


By Paul Evans, Research and Innovation Development Manager, LIDA 

Artificial intelligence (AI) is everywhere in mainstream media at the moment and in the world of data science, AI research funding is booming and becoming noticeably embedded into a lot of funding calls. One of the major research funding councils Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) in this space aims to fund work to realise the benefits of AI and digital technologies, creating opportunities and improving outcomes for the UK economy and society. It recently announced a whole range of funding opportunities in the AI space with over £250m earmarked across AI and mathematical hubs, AI and net zero and the next round of AI PhD Centres. 

Further fuelling the AI trend, the UK Spring budget announced by the chancellor of the exchequer, Jeremy Hunt, included a new annual £1m AI prize dubbed the “Manchester Prize”. Hunt also acknowledged meaningful developments were needed in the AI sector, requiring more “computing horsepower”, which has resulted in a £900m budget to enact the recommendations made in the independent Future of Compute Review.

It includes the launch of an AI sandbox, which will “trial new, faster approaches to help innovators get cutting-edge products to market”, all fueling the desire for the UK to become the “next Silicon Valley”.  

Increasingly, research councils are working together to fund opportunities (this was helped by the UKRI being formed in 2018 to bring some cohesion across the funding landscape). We’re seeing bigger grants aimed at addressing the big health, societal and environmental issues that we are facing as humans, and the increasing interplay between these areas.  

We’re seeing more data science and AI being incorporated into everything we do, rather than being a separate field on its own. UKRI expects data science and AI to be included into grant proposals and data is often a significant component of project proposals. 

The trends 

It’s impossible now when talking about AI to not mention chatgpt, a real game changer when it comes to AI having a direct impact on peoples’ lives, with a useable tool to help with work and education. Despite the data it pulls from only going up until 2021, it still provided 8 plausible bullet points to my question... ‘What will be the 2023 data science and AI Research Funding Top Trends?’  

Here are my top five... 

1. Ethical AI   

One answer stated ‘Ethical AI: The ethical implications of AI and data science are gaining more attention from researchers, policymakers, and the general public. Funding for research into ethical AI could increase, including studies into fairness, transparency, accountability, and privacy in AI systems’. It’s difficult to argue against this being an important trend, indeed earlier this year UKRI announced a funding call for £31m around trustworthy and responsible AI. 

It will be interesting to see how this counteracts the growing fears of new online threats that are more difficult to spot, as warned by Apple c-founder Steve Wozniak.

2. AI for healthcare 

Another prediction ChatGPT made was ‘AI for healthcare: The healthcare industry is rapidly adopting AI technologies for various applications, from diagnostics to drug discovery. Funding for research into AI-based healthcare solutions could increase as a result’.

Again, without the answer being groundbreaking, it is most certainly a huge growth area. Scientists at the University of Leeds have recently developed an artificial intelligence system that can analyze eye scans taken during a routine visit to an optician or eye clinic and identify patients at a high risk of a heart attack. 

3. Digital Twins 

Another big growth area recently and that will continue into 2023 is digital twins. A digital twin is a virtual representation of a real system – a building, the power grid, a city, even a human being – that mimics the characteristics of the system. A digital twin is much more than just a computer model, however, it receives data from sensors in the real system to constantly parallel the system’s state making it extremely accurate.  

There are some really exciting applications for digital twins at the moment, LIDA is working with a partner in this area with some significant future outputs, which we can’t wait to share with you.  

UKRI has recently announced funding for building a digital twin community as well as another call for decarbonizing transport. The Alan Turing Institute also announced their new strategy using data science and AI for public good, focusing on their new digital twins initiative and large language models.  

4. Climate Change 

Climate change is one of the most pressing issues facing the world today, and AI can play a significant role in mitigating its impact. Funding for research into AI-based solutions for climate change could increase in 2023. 

Again we saw this featured in the Alan Turing Institute’s white paper, that AI has a critical role to play in helping tackle the climate crisis and the UKRI will soon be revealing the awards for their Artificial intelligence research to enable UK’s net zero target funding opportunity.  

Recently I attended the Alan Turing Institute’s AI conference where a university spin out company, Carbon Re, is using AI in hard to abate industries like cement and steel (which account for 20% of global co2 emissions). The company enables this through reinforcement learning (see below) to help plants to become more efficient and reduce co2 emissions by up to 10%. 

5. Reinforcement Learning 

Reinforcement learning is a subfield of AI that focuses on training agents to make decisions based on trial and error. As more industries adopt AI-based decision-making systems, funding for research into reinforcement learning could increase. 

This strand of machine learning uses trial and error, will be very interesting to watch over the coming months. We know all the big brands are using it, Netflix for recommendations, Tesla for self-driving cars, Google for gameplay, but how do we see it working in health and the environment?  


Research here at Leeds & the role of LIDA 

So what about the research being done here at the University of Leeds? The university has an extremely diverse range of research funding, covering all aspects of life. For this academic year the university has through the Horizons Institute prioritised; mental health, physical activity and movement, antimicrobial resistance and space. 

You’re now probably wondering how does a university coordinate all these exciting advances in data science and AI across such a broad range of areas? This is where LIDA comes in.   

LIDA is a truly interdisciplinary centre, bringing together researchers from various disciplines including computing, mathematics, medicine, transport and many more areas. LIDA fosters a collaborative community of researchers interested in data science, making connections with people who wouldn’t normally work together. LIDA brings together these researchers to collaborate and work on funding proposals. 

One of the key strengths of LIDA is the breadth of disciplines that is covers, our communities and programmes cover the whole of the university.   

To help facilitate this collaboration, LIDA has established three Communities in;

Cutting across these Communities we have Programmes in;

These groups come together to discuss specific projects, share ideas and collaborate on new funding bids. It’s a great way to meet like-minded researchers and anyone at the University of Leeds can join a data science community or programme.   

LIDA collaborates with different networks, centres and groups across the University. LIDA Societies is currently working with the Leeds Institute of Social Sciences (LSSI) to encourage Social and Data scientists to collaborate more closely together. We collaborate with engineers, mathematicians, and data scientists to understand how data science can be maximised in the area of materials. We’ve also recently supported colleagues in the University’s Bragg Centre to run a workshop. LIDA Health is collaborating with the University’s Mental health network to understand how data can be used to improve our understanding of this area. 

We also hold events and weekly coffee mornings to bring our network together, so if you’re in the mood for some homemade cake and data science chat, do pop by! 

How LIDA can support your research 

LIDA has a core team in place to help support researchers to help identify relevant funding opportunities, build researcher teams and ideas and then project manage the funding application, as well as other aspects including bringing in relevant external partners. 

The team includes... 

Data Analytics Team (DAT) - who are a group of specialists in data management, data analysis and software engineering, who collaborate with LIDA researchers across all stages of their projects. 

Operations - who ensure a smooth and efficient day to day running of the institute and bring in continuous improvement to our in person and virtual ways of working together. 

Communications - who can advise and support you in promoting your work internally and externally to give you maximum exposure and recognition for your work. 

Research and Innovation Development - and of course myself, I help researchers build capacity, develop ideas and submit quality research funding proposals. I also do a lot of partnership development work, bringing in public and private sector organisations to work with LIDA. 

If you'd like to find out how LIDA can support your work, so you can get on with the research, drop me an email at