back to article Alan Turing Institute to spend grants on AI for air traffic control and banking

The UK government will bankroll two major research projects led by the country's national institute for AI, the Alan Turing Institute: one to automate air traffic control, and the other for banking services. Project Bluebird, arguably the more interesting of the two, will receive £11.9m and explore how techniques like …

  1. Headley_Grange Silver badge

    "The aim, as far as we can tellNATS is telling air traffic controllers, is not to outright replace human air traffic controllers,

  2. macjules Silver badge

    get humans and intelligent machines working closer

    get intelligent humans and machines working closer


  3. David Pearce

    Safety integrity level software?

    I thought that AI was very hard to show what it was actually doing. As you cannot get much more safety critical than ATC, this will be "interesting"

    AI will discover patterns, which might be real or might be side effects of something else that has not been factored into the training data sets.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Safety integrity level software?

      ATC isn't as safety critical as you might think/hope. I've worked on avionics, railway signalling and ATC in my time, and ATC is the least safety critical of these three.

      1. H-tron

        Re: Safety integrity level software?

        Context is key. I’d argue you could easily land an A380 on a busy Heathrow runway without railway signalling. Good luck doing it without ATC.

        I’m sure the parents of the children involved in the Uberlingen disaster would have something to say about this too.

  4. JassMan Silver badge

    It's hoped the machine-learning system can assist human controllers in preventing accidents and improving traffic flow. By optimizing journeys, the software may even reduce fuel consumption, too.

    Is laudable as long as they don't then use the more efficient flow to increase traffic. Just like fluids, if you have lamimar flow you can pass more, but introduce a bit of turbulence and it all backs up to create a flood.

    Ie. They need to make sure they are not creating conditions for a bigger disaster when a trivial incident occurs.

    1. Scott Broukell

      @JassMan - What, you mean use it to demonstrate things like reducing vert/horiz separation, increased flight density (as you suggest) and then adding greater capacity / runways to every airport in the country - all because they can demonstrate that it's "building back better", greener, more fuel efficient and because humanity really, really needs us to be able to spread diseases globally at high capacity. Hmmmm. I mean, what could possibly go wrong? - the latest buzz-words are built into the shiny shiny machines, don'tcha know!. And if and when it does go wrong - it will just be because the silly humins weren't able to react fast enough to thier AI Overloards instructions etc.

  5. Lil Endian

    ATC AI: A Tool, Not A Crutch

    Okay, as long as the AI stays entirely in the background unless it raises a potential issue. If it's reporting continuously I predict "bad things" happening. Air Traffic Controllers, as we know, are under immense pressure. They'd essentially be doing their normal job and trying to assess the validity of any AI responses.

    Keeping the AI quiet until risk is identified would mean that there's no dispute over the where the decision making responsibilty lies: the human.

    I'll admit that at first my blood ran cold, but there are some obvious benefits if done correctly. I reckon the ATC sector is one that might get it right. I'd be magnitudes happier if Turing himself were heading up the projects.

    Icon - a toast to Alan Turing (RIP Alan, and thank you for all your unique and wonderful work.)

  6. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Cojones Needed ...... for WIMPS [Windows Interface Manipulation Programs Supply]

    An interdisciplinary team made up of computer scientists and economists will investigate how AI can revamp financial services and tools, and look for the best ways to apply the technology fairly and securely.

    Another fork would be their invention and maintenance of novel and noble and Nobel worthy services, or would that be too controversial and subversive because ....... IT Offers AI B00Sters in Futured Futures Markets. Where everything Heavenly is Provided for Quantum Leaping Progress. A BillionairesRUs Investment Vehicle for Group Hosting and Sub-Contracted Hire …..for Virtually Live Application Engagement of AI B00Sters. ‽ .

    A Killer Application that, whether Primarily an Exotic Erotic Eastern Confection or Wild Wacky Western Delight, or not, if AIDeliverable in Private Pirate Promotion and/or as a More Extraordinary Renegade Rogue Rendition.

    That's certainly where some are presently at with exercises currently quietly active and stealthily engaged to run riot in such fields. I Kid U Not.

  7. Lil Endian

    AI In Banking...?

    For what?

    I'm guessing fraud detection & prevention and maximising profits (when to trade most profitably). Not entirely altruistic.

    "Using real data is risky, and isn’t possible for privacy reasons."

    I'd suggest "isn't possible" is a bit strong, but fair go, the data isn't staying in-house (two parties) and you're erring on the side of caution rather than relying on anonymising real data. You couldn't have a chat with for us could you, about a little project they're running atm.

  8. steelpillow Silver badge

    Learn to walk before we try to run

    You know, I don't really want to entrust my ATC or finances to some dumb schmuck's idea of an AI they can get away with foisting on me to give them a career. I'd much rather see AI developed first for things like sorting and grading recycled rubbish, giving my garden mower the ability to distinguish weeds from flowers, that sort of less life-changing shit where there is less to lose when the inevitable titsup happens.

  9. Magani
    Black Helicopters

    A bit simplistic, but...

    ...if you get AI to study outcomes and the ways they were achieved by human ATC bods, then all you've ended up with is a system that will 'think' like a good controller given the constraints of performance and sep'n standards, and in the future, come up with solutions that the ATCO at the time will probably have already (or shortly thereafter) come up with anyway. All you've added is a distraction.

    Any further improvement needs to see a change of separation standards, and/or the building of lots more runways.

    OT: Last century, the Oz ATC PHBs in 'Bullsh1t Castle' decided that there were parallels between trains and aircraft. They got in a train expert and asked him how to improve efficiency in moving aircraft. After an appropriate period, his (because they were always 'hims' in those days) report said that aviation had it all wrong. Railways had (generally) two lines between main stations, and lots of platforms at each end. Aviation had lots of airways and only one or two runways at each end, and hence had it all backwards.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    AI for air traffic control?

    Is there an airborne version of the Trolley Problem?

    What could possibly go wrong?

    1. This Side Up

      Re: AI for air traffic control?

      Mid-air collision: Oops, sorry. We'll learn from that.

  11. Howard Sway

    Prosperity Partnership Project

    A nice way of saying "taxpayers money shovelled to HSBC".

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  12. Herring`


    AI: "FU891 Ascend to FL 140 and turn left 160"

    Pilot (having a bad day): "Unable"

    AI: "I'm sorry, I didn't quite understand that"

    Pilot: "UNABLE"

    AI: "I'm sorry, I didn't quite understand that"

    Pilot: "MAYDAY MAYDAY MAYDAY. We have lost power in both engines"

    AI: "If you require a human controller, please say Yes"


    1. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge

      Re: Interesting

      "It looks like you're going down in flames. Would you like help with that?"

  13. David_Woodhead
    IT Angle

    How much?

    <i>The UK government will, to the tune of £60m, bankroll two major research projects ...</i>

    If these really are MAJOR research projects, from which conclusions would be drawn that change the way we run air traffic control and banking, then £60m is chump change compared to what would be needed for a meaningful in-depth analysis of:

    a) how they work (this is AI remember)

    b) whether they work

    c) how we check that they work and against what criteria

    d) what could be the side effects: expected and unexpected

    e) how we back out if it's a disaster

    f) the costs at every stage: design; implementation; running; disaster recovery

    This is just two minutes off the top of my head. £60m is meaningless in this context.

  14. Colin Bain

    Big tech

    Ah yes. A wonderfully hopeful aim, laudable even. Unfortunately big Gov plus public money plus software plus people ensures the continuation of the usual outcome. Big waste of time and effort followed by a report from the NAO saying the same.

    I promise to say I told you so, assuming I lived through the experiment

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