Institutions of Innovation: Hartree Centre
'Institutions of Innovation' is a new series of monthly interviews with the institutions driving the UK’s innovation policy.
The series will begin to piece together the UK's evolving innovation landscape, setting out who the key actors are, what they do, where they sit and how industry can best engage with them, including through techUK.
This month's responses have been provided by Professor Katherine Royse, Director of the Hartree Centre.
I see the Hartree Centre “helps UK businesses and organisations of any size to explore and adopt supercomputing, data science and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies for enhanced productivity, smarter innovation and economic growth.” What does this mean in practice?
Our mission means we help organisations to find and make the best use of the right technologies to help them work smarter, saving money and resources along the way.
What makes us unique is our ability to work at the intersection of applied research and innovation to place advanced digital technologies like supercomputing, data science, AI and quantum computing technologies into the hands of UK businesses and public sector organisations. We are committed to creating digital solutions that really make a difference for industry challenges and we bridge the gap between theory and practical adoption. We can work with businesses at any stage of their journey, by demonstrating the art of the possible, upskilling teams to take advantage of digital technologies, developing proofs-of-concept and de-risking investment into emerging technologies. These are all things that help to boost productivity and capacity for innovation – and deliver meaningful societal and economic impact for the UK.
What kind of relationship does the Hartree Centre have with its closest institutional neighbours?
We are proud to be members of the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) ecosystem and share UKRI’s goal to build a thriving, inclusive research and innovation system that connects discovery to prosperity and public good. We are a department within the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) - one of Europe’s largest multi-disciplinary scientific research organisations – and regularly collaborate with several other research councils and agencies.
To give an example, we are a partner in Innovate UK’s £100 million BridgeAI programme which aims to empower UK organisations in high-growth potential sectors to harness the power of AI and unlock their full potential through funding and support.
We are also lucky enough to host JADE-2 onsite in our data centre. JADE is an EPSRC-funded, Tier 2 facility owned by the University of Oxford that supports world-leading research in machine learning, bridging the gap between university systems and access to national HPC resources.
Beyond DSIT, what are the key departments that the Hartree Centre works most closely with?
We have an impactful collaboration with the UK Atomic Energy Authority where we are using supercomputing and AI technologies to help make fusion energy a commercial reality. Our teams are innovating to develop digital twins of fusion power plants that help scientists and engineers test viable reactor technologies virtually, removing the need for expensive physical prototyping. Not only is it a fantastic opportunity to converge our expertise in supercomputing and AI with UKAEA’s domain expertise in fusion science and technology, it will also help seed the development of a whole new industrial sector – the pioneering SMES, universities and engineering giants that will deliver and commercialise fusion.
More broadly, how does the Hartree Centre work with external stakeholders, including organisations across the UK, to drive innovation?
We believe in powering innovation through collaboration, that is where the most exciting exchange of ideas and solutions occur. Our Hartree National Centre for Digital Innovation (HNCDI) programme is a collaboration with IBM that enables businesses to acquire the skills, knowledge and technical capability required to adopt digital technologies and provides a safe and supportive environment to explore them and apply to industry challenges, turning good ideas into industry-ready solutions. For us, it’s about lowering the barriers to innovation so that organisations can create enhanced products and services that generate long-term societal and economic impact, embedding AI solutions across industry.
A fantastic example of the impact we’re already creating together is our work with biotechnology company Reprocell looking at AI powered precision medicine for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). We developed machine learning algorithms and AI-powered platforms to simplify complicated datasets, helping to streamline the drug development process and identify more effective treatments for IBD quickly and cost effectively.
How can techUK’s 1000+ industry members best engage with the Hartree Centre?
techUK’s members can keep up to date with our activities, funding and collaboration opportunities by following us on our social media channels (LinkedIn, Instagram and X), subscribing to our email newsletter and accessing our website. They are the places we like to actively share which events we are attending, speaking or exhibiting at and new opportunities to work with us. You might also stumble upon us at various industry and computing events throughout the year across the UK and internationally – needless to say, we are often represented at techUK’s own events!
If you’re an organisation with an appetite for change, regardless of where you are at in your digital journey, we can help you navigate the possibilities of advanced digital technologies and discover the next step for your organisation by getting in touch to explore ways we can work together. Alternatively you can access our library of free, application-focused self-learning courses designed with industry in mind and available to support your learning at your own pace.
Can you name any examples of how the Hartree Centre has worked with techUK in the past? If so, what have you enjoyed, valued, or learned during the process?
I really value working with techUK. I have attended several events run and supported by techUK this year, for example at CogX techUK tech policy leadership conference, and tech and innovation summit I went to last month. These events bring together such a wide range of stakeholders in the tech community from entrepreneurs to academics to large global corporates which initiate interesting and vibrant conversations – many have resulted in follow ups with our Hartree Centre experts. Conversations with such a wide range of specialists really help me understand how we can support business better. Going forward, I have taken many of the ideas back to colleagues at the Hartree Centre.
What is the Hartree Centre’s long-term vision for the UK’s innovation landscape? Are there any areas in which working with industry will be particularly crucial?
The next big thing is going to be the technology convergence, in my mind, between AI, high performance computing and quantum computing. Quantum AI is the fusion of quantum computing’s capabilities with artificial intelligence. I believe this will be an area that the Hartree Centre will be working on with industry. This convergence will be invaluable to optimising supply chains and in revolutionising drug discovery. Quantum AI is a powerful and promising technology, but it also comes with great responsibility. We will need to work together to develop and deploy quantum AI in a way that is beneficial, sustainable, and respectful. For industry I believe we will be able to support industry in tackling hybrid workflows between HPC and Quantum computing as well as look at some of the ethical implications of quantum AI through a thorough understanding of how quantum machine learning algorithms behave. I believe we have a number of areas to look at in this field, three examples are listed below:
Cybersecurity: Quantum computers could potentially break existing encryption protocols, exposing sensitive data and transactions to malicious actors. This would undermine the security and trust of many internet services, including e-commerce, banking, and blockchain technologies.
Algorithmic bias: Quantum computing may exacerbate bias in artificial intelligence systems, leading to unfair outcomes. For example, quantum machine learning algorithms may produce different results depending on the probabilistic nature of quantum mechanics, which could affect the transparency and accountability of decision-making processes. To avoid this, quantum AI developers need to ensure that their models are fair, explainable, and ethical23.
Social responsibility: Quantum AI may have profound impacts on society, economy, and environment, both positive and negative. For instance, quantum AI could help solve global challenges such as climate change, health care, and education, but it could also create new inequalities, displacements, and conflicts. To ensure that quantum AI is used for good, stakeholders need to engage in ethical deliberation, regulation, and governance24.
Finally, what is the Hartree Centre’s main priority over the next 12 months?
Our main priority over the next 12 months will be to look at how we can support more UK businesses with appropriate and responsible use of AI. I believe that we will have a number of frameworks, policies and regulations worldwide for the deployment of AI tools in the next year and one of the many roles that the Hartree Centre will have with new adopters of these types of emerging technologies is to explain and demonstrate to industry how to use AI technologies responsibly.
You can find out more about the Hartree Centre by visiting their website here.
Click below to view our other Supercharging Innovation series:
techUK – Supercharging UK Tech and Innovation
The opportunities of innovation are endless. Automation, IoT, AI, Edge, Quantum, Drones and High Performance Computing all have the power to transform the UK. techUK members lead the development of these technologies. Together we are working with Government and other stakeholders to address tech innovation priorities and build an innovation ecosystem that will benefit people, society, economy and the planet - and supercharge the UK as a global leader in tech and innovation.
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