Lancaster Professor part of 10M Euro new European AI centre of excellence

man sat in front of palm trees
Prof Plamen Angelov

A Lancaster University Professor is among a new network of top European experts in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, developing and deploying cutting-edge AI solutions with ambitions to become the world’s beacon of AI.

The "European Lighthouse on Secure and Safe AI" (ELSA) project brings together researchers from 26 top research institutions and companies in Europe to pool their expertise in the field of AI and machine learning.

Professor Plamen Angelov, Chair in Intelligent Systems at the School of Computing and Communications, at Lancaster University and Director of the Lancaster Intelligent, Robotic and Autonomous systems (LIRA) Centre leads a three-year Work Package on human agency and oversight focusing on explainable and interpretable deep learning. He also leads on a Grand Challenge on Human-in-the-loop decision-making, also funded through the new programme. Lancaster is also part of a other Work Packages within the programme. The projects combined are funded with just under 500,000 Euro through ELSA.

Professor Angelov said: “We will address the ‘black-box’ nature of some complex AI systems that use methods known as ‘deep learning’ to help make system decision-making more transparent and understandable. Working with partners from Alan Turing Institute and University of Birmingham we will also address problems of governance, ethics and other issues relating to machine learning and AI applications in areas such as health, autonomous driving and cybersecurity.”

The ELSA project is coordinated by the CISPA Helmholtz Center for Information Security in Saarbrücken.

"Artificial intelligence has the potential to improve all our lives enormously - be it through better healthcare or completely new possibilities for mobility. But a blessing can quickly turn into a curse if the technology is not based on a secure foundation. I see enormous potential in bringing together Europe's top researchers through ELSA so that we can face the great challenges of AI and machine learning together. I am sure we can make a lot of difference together," says CISPA’s Dr Mario Fritz.

The new virtual center of excellence will focus on the further development of machine learning methods, in particular also so-called deep learning, as these methods form the basis for many modern AI applications. The initial three-year project will focus on developing robust technical approaches that are compatible with legal and ethical principles. At the same time, the network of excellence aims to create the necessary structures to promote the development and use of AI technology and to break down barriers.

ELSA builds on and extends the internationally recognized ELLIS (European Laboratory for Learning and Intelligent Systems) network of excellence. ELLIS and its partner network ELISE (European Network of AI Excellence Centres) have already demonstrated in the past what Europe is capable of in the field of AI and machine learning. Following their success and structure, ELSA also rests on three pillars: selected research programs, local research units, and a PhD and postdoc program.

The ELSA research programs will underpin the research agenda of the 26 partnering institutions and will focus on technical robustness and security, privacy protection techniques and infrastructures, and human agency and oversight. One of the primary goals of the Network of Excellence is to detect threats early and mitigate damage. This is all the more important because areas of application for AI solutions are such sensitive areas as the healthcare sector or autonomous driving. Artificial intelligence is also used in robotics, cybersecurity, media and document security. All of these application areas are the focus of the network. To achieve its goals, the network is addressing three major challenges: The development of robustness guarantees and certificates, data-secure and robust collaborative learning, and the development of human control mechanisms for the ethical and secure use of AI.

Lancaster will lead the research to address the latter challenge working in collaboration with teams from Alan Turing Institute and Birmingham University.

ELSA ( is funded by the European Union by around 7.5 million Euros with a further 2.5 million Euros coming from the United Kingdom and Switzerland. Its content is geared toward important societal issues such as health, sustainable development, and digitalization. A central goal of the EU framework program is to promote excellence in European science.

The ELSA consortium consists of the following research institutions and companies: CISPA Helmholtz Center for Information Security University of Helsinki KTH Royal Institute of Technology Computer Vision Center Italian Institute of Technology University of Modena and Reggio Emilia National Interuniversity Consortium for Informatics University of Cagliari University of Genoa University of Milano Polytechnic University of Turin Max Planck Society National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Automation European Molecular Biology Laboratory Pluribus One Yooz Leonardo PAL Robotics École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne ETH Zurich NVIDIA University of Oxford Lancaster University University of Birmingham The Alan Turing Institute

* ELSA is funded by the European Union Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.

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