Churchill Fellow Anna Korhonen is Professor of Computational Linguistics and the co-director of the Language Technology Laboratory (LTL). She is also director of the recently launched Centre for Human Inspired Artificial Intelligence (CHIA), a new research centre at the University of Cambridge dedicated to exploring the possibilities of a world shared by both humans and machines with artificial intelligence (AI).

Anna grew up in Finland where her interdisciplinary background was first developed through an interest in human intelligence, particularly in relation to human language, which led to an undergraduate degree and Masters in Linguistics. Anna’s growing fascination with STEM subjects then led her to complete a second Master’s degree in Engineering and a PhD in Computer Science, and she became a specialist in Natural Language Processing (NLP). She is particularly interested in human-centric NLP that draws on the understanding of human cognitive, social and creative intelligence and focuses applications aimed at social and global good. As Anna points out, this field is one of the oldest areas of AI, but it’s really taken off in the past 7-8 years because of the availability of big language data and the success of deep learning; the method in artificial intelligence (AI) that teaches computers to process data in a way that is inspired by the human brain.

Having found herself at this intersection between humanities subjects and STEM subjects, Anna is keen to bridge the gap between machine intelligence and human intelligence to make machines work better for humans. As Anna explains, “this is the situation we are in at the moment, we need to put humans back in the centre of AI, if they were ever in the centre of AI in the first place”:

Until very recently, AI was a very technical subject where you were not trained in ethics or sociology as part of the degree and you could run interesting experiments without having to worry about the social consequences of where the technology might lead. This is no longer the case. The technology is now so powerful, there is now an urgent need to make sure AI is compatible with human intelligence and supportive of humanity rather than working against it.

The idea for the Centre for Human Inspired Artificial Intelligence (CHIA) was formulated because of the realisation that this technology would be extremely powerful very soon and AI development and training for the next generation would have to go beyond STEM subjects and be guided by multiple disciplines ranging from cognitive to social and environmental sciences. The Centre was formally launched in February 2023 and brings together an interdisciplinary community of researchers to investigate the innovative ways in which human and machine intelligence can be combined to yield AI which can contribute to social and global progress. Anna, the centre’s director, works alongside co-directors; Per Ola Kristensson, Professor of Interactive Systems Engineering and John Suckling, Director of Research in Psychiatric Neuroimaging, along with a committee of academics representing all six schools of the university.

CHIA connects researchers working on technical AI subjects with those working in a wide range of human-centric subjects. The shared aim of the people involved is to innovate the next generation of human-centric AI and application.

The research at CHIA covers many kinds of AI from NLP to computer vision, virtual reality, and robotics. The Centre also conducts research on responsible AI as well as human-facing applications aimed at social and global good.  

Excitingly, Anna has just been awarded a prestigious ERC Advanced Grant of 2.49 million euro for five years, to support her research within CHIA on responsible AI. The project the grant will fund is called, ‘Towards globally equitable language technologies’ and further information can be found about this important research below.

Towards globally equitable language technologies

Natural Language Processing (NLP) is a branch of Artificial intelligence that enables computers to understand and generate human language. This can help to facilitate communication, education, healthcare, and other essential areas of human life. Yet, this technology is not distributed equally and is available only for a small part of the world’s people, mainly those living in the Global North. This is due to the scarcity of resources needed to develop NLP for the majority of our over 7,000 living languages.

In this project, Anna aims to establish an approach to NLP that prioritises global fairness and inclusivity. To achieve this, her team will profile the world’s languages and their populations in terms of their readiness for NLP and investigate the multitude of methodological challenges in achieving equity at different levels of NLP readiness. Finally, the project will design transformative approaches to NLP that can be combined to make language technologies globally more equitable.

This highly interdisciplinary project will involve both AI researchers and social scientists.

Find out more about CHIA

The Centre offers many opportunities for current students and academics to get involved. Find out more

CHIA also seeks partnership with companies and donors that share their mission to advance AI for the benefit of humanity. Get involved

Anna was also featured in a recent interview with CAM magazine in which she says AI is a long way from replacing the core elements that make us uniquely human:

This idea must die: “AI will outsmart the human race” – CAM Digital | University of Cambridge