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In association with the Manchester Prize

Manchester Prize to reward AI innovations for the public good

From technological advancements in healthcare to decarbonising the energy sector, technology innovators have been exploring ways to solve society’s greatest challenges with safe and responsible AI. In its efforts to champion the most pioneering AI applications, how will the Manchester Prize and its entrants help to spur AI innovation for good?

AI is transforming the way we live and work, and its impact is only set to continue. With global AI spending set to double between 2023 and 2026 to more than $300bn, its use is expanding at a rapid pace. This meteoric rise has generated discussion around the role we want AI to play in society, but the significant contributions AI has made towards solving some of society’s greatest and most complex challenges cannot be understated.

From identifying cancer twice as accurately as biopsies to predictive AI helping us to better prepare for and counteract climate change impacts, AI innovation has a central role in efforts to slash carbon emissions and improve public health, while many industries are witnessing the benefits of AI in improving workplace productivity.

As the urgency to reduce emissions increases to meet net-zero targets, AI technology plays a crucial role in decarbonising the energy sector, while also contributing to the development of the UK’s technical infrastructure. (Photo courtesy of the Manchester Prize)

To encourage further innovation in AI for the public good, the UK government has announced the Manchester Prize to celebrate and reward innovations that will tackle some of the biggest challenges in society, inspiring the next wave of UK-led AI innovators.

“With its potential to improve public services, drive economic growth, and support the net-zero transition, AI-powered innovation has the ability to transform society and our everyday lives,” says Sarah Munby, permanent secretary at the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT), which is funding the Manchester Prize.

Each year, the prize will award £1m to UK-led teams developing innovative solutions to these challenges using AI. As cost-of-living pressures impact many people and businesses in the UK, safe AI innovation can contribute towards cutting costs, reducing emissions and improving the UK’s health.

“I’m excited to see the cutting-edge innovations developed by finalists in our first round, which will showcase the UK’s enduring science and technology brilliance and the enormous potential of AI to deliver public benefit,” says Munby.

The public’s attitudes towards AI

DSIT’s Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation (CDEI) Public Attitudes Tracker Survey 2023 found that, following the emergence of large language models, such as ChatGPT, into public view in late 2022, self-reported awareness of AI increased significantly. The survey, which monitors how attitudes towards data and AI vary over time in the UK, found that 95% of people had heard of AI in 2023, a 6% increase since the previous year’s 89% outcome.

Other findings in the CDEI survey demonstrated that the UK public was generally optimistic about the potential for AI to increase day-to-day convenience, make services more affordable and improve public services such as healthcare and education.

However, the public also sees risks associated with these data-driven technologies including concerns about job displacement (45%), threats to human creativity and problem-solving skills (35%), and fears around loss of control over AI (34%).

On how the government can address risks and unlock the benefits of AI, Munby said: “We have a golden opportunity right now to think hard about the type of AI we want to see flourish in our society, actively address these concerns and demonstrate the benefits it can bring.”

The Manchester Prize for AI innovation
DSIT continues to nurture AI innovation with the launch of the Manchester Prize in December 2023, stating its commitment to place the UK at the helm of the AI revolution.

“Our decade-long funding commitment for the Manchester Prize will allow the UK to continue harnessing the transformative opportunities of AI for public good,” says Viscount Camrose, minister for AI and intellectual property.

“The inaugural Manchester Prize is an exciting new initiative to drive that agenda,” says Munby. “It will award £1m every year to a groundbreaking UK-led AI innovation that helps solve some of societies’ biggest challenges. This year, that focus is on energy, the environment and infrastructure.”

The Manchester Prize: seeking pioneers of innovation

With entries now open for the prize, UK-based start-ups, individuals, companies, non-profits, universities and charities, are invited to showcase their work in helping to tackle the greatest challenges in society.

The prize builds upon the £3.5bn injection to make the UK a ‘science and technology superpower’, which was announced in the UK government’s 2023 Spring Budget.

“The UK is the leading European tech ecosystem, ahead of Germany and France, and with initiatives like this we can cement our position as a science and technology superpower, helping grow our economy,” says Jeremy Hunt, Chancellor of the Exchequer.

A legacy of AI innovation

The prize’s name comes from the world’s first stored program computer, which was built in 1948 at the University of Manchester, known as the Manchester Baby.

In its first program, the Small Scale Experimental Machine (SSEM), or ‘The Baby’, took 52 minutes, running through 3.5 million calculations before it got to the correct answer, making it the first computer in the world to run a program electronically stored in its memory.

“Manchester is the birthplace of the world’s first modern computer, and has inspired countless innovations in computer science,” says Hunt. “I hope this prize will in turn inspire the next generation to tackle some of society’s biggest challenges.”

The world’s only working replica of the Manchester Baby, the prize’s namesake, is on display at the Museum of Science and Industry. (Photo by Science Museum Group/The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum)

Talent across all sectors

The first Manchester Prize opened for entrants in December 2023 until 1 February 2024, with the grand prize announced in March 2025. The prize is an open competition to inspire applications from a broad community of innovators and invites competitive UK talent across all sectors.

In April this year, up to ten entries will be selected to progress as finalists, each of whom will win a prize of £100,000 to develop their ideas into a working prototype. One of these teams will progress to win the grand prize.

“The government has already provided £3.75m for AI-based decarbonisation projects, and this new competition funding is an exciting opportunity to unleash new innovation,” says Energy Minister Andrew Bowie.

These finalists and the winner will be selected based on five judging criteria to ensure the most promising solutions are celebrated. These cover how innovative finalists’ solutions are compared with existing technology, the solution’s impact, long-term viability, the feasibility of delivering a working prototype, and evidence of safe and ethical AI development.

Finalists will win access to a package of free computing power to deliver their solutions, and opportunities to interact with key stakeholders, potential investors and adopters of their technology within the public and private sectors to share knowledge and encourage collaboration.

“In the next few years, we will undoubtedly see fascinating and impactful applications of AI that will have a profound impact on our lives, society and the planet,” says Nick Jennings, chair of the Manchester Prize judging panel. “Science and technology are at their best when multiple perspectives and ideas come together. Encouraging innovation and collaboration is the aim of the Manchester Prize, and I can’t wait to see who enters.”

Decarbonising the energy sector

Facilitating the installation of electric vehicles (EVs) through optimising charging methods, or reducing household energy consumption are just a few examples where using AI can identify opportunities to lower costs for consumers or reduce emissions.

As the urgency to reduce emissions increases to meet net-zero targets, AI technology plays a crucial role in decarbonising the energy sector, while also contributing to developing the UK’s technical infrastructure.

“AI could help build on the incredible progress we have made to decarbonise our energy system,” says Bowie. “From predicting real-time solar power generation to better grid management, the technology has huge potential to help cut emissions by 2030.”

As the prize continues to welcome entries from all sectors in the UK, its ambition is to foster a continuation of the pioneering work that will help to answer society’s key challenges in a future of climate change and digital transformation, for which AI’s potential to provide solutions is only at the beginning.

For more information on the Manchester Prize and how to enter before 1 February 2024, visit manchesterprize.org.

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