World leading expert on bio-inspired AI to direct University of Sheffield’s Centre for Machine Intelligence

22nd April 2024

One of the world’s leading innovators in bio-inspired AI has joined the University of Sheffield, as part of a new multi-million pound centre that is set to transform the institution’s research, innovation and teaching around artificial intelligence.

  • The University of Sheffield has appointed one of the world’s foremost innovators in bio-inspired AI to lead its new Centre for Machine Intelligence (CMI)
  • Professor James Marshall, Co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer at Opteran Technologies, reverse-engineered the brain of a honeybee to develop the next generation of autonomous machines and set a new standard for AI, inspired by nature’s most efficient navigators
  • The Centre for Machine Intelligence is set to transform the University of Sheffield’s research, innovation and teaching around artificial intelligence

One of the world’s leading innovators in bio-inspired AI has joined the University of Sheffield, as part of a new multi-million pound centre that is set to transform the institution’s research, innovation and teaching around artificial intelligence. 

Professor James Marshall, Co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer of Opteran Technologies Limited, has been appointed Director of the University’s Centre for Machine Intelligence (CMI). 

Within Opteran, Professor Marshall is helping develop the next generation of autonomous machines using AI inspired by the brains of insects. Called ‘Natural Intelligence’, the technology is based on Professor Marshall’s research that reverse-engineered the brains of insects such as the honeybee – one of nature’s most efficient navigators. 

This biological intelligence enables machines to better solve complex visual and navigational challenges, which Opteran believes could set a new standard for autonomous machines, far exceeding the capabilities of the industry’s current technology. 

Northern Gritstone, the investment business founded by the Universities of Sheffield, Manchester, and Leeds to help boost the commercialisation of university spinouts and start-ups in the north of England, invested more than £3 million into Opteran in 2022 in a landmark first deal as part of a £12 million seed round, signalling the technology’s potential. 

On joining Sheffield’s CMI, Professor Marshall will retain part of his role at Opteran. 

Sheffield’s Centre for Machine Intelligence is bringing together experts from across the University to harness the power of AI to help tackle some of the greatest global challenges facing society today. Working closely with the University’s flagship research institutes, the centre will have a particular focus on issues such as AI and social equality/inequality, the role of AI in health and healthcare, AI-driven engineering and scientific discovery, and dependable autonomous systems. 

Aside from research, Sheffield’s CMI aims to be at the forefront of AI education, positioning Sheffield as an AI positive institution in which all students have the opportunity to learn about this transformative technology and prepare them for future employment.

Professor James Marshall said: “I’m honoured and excited to be starting as Director of the Centre for Machine Intelligence - AI and its risks and benefits are increasingly at the forefront of innovation, and in the minds of the public and of policy makers. Sheffield is well-placed to bring a unique and straightforward perspective to the debate, encouraging the application of the technology in areas such as healthcare and materials, while also scrutinising the costs and benefits that society needs to trade off against each other.”

Professor Guy Brown, Interim Director of the Centre for Machine Intelligence and Professor of Computer Science at the University of Sheffield, said:

“I’m delighted that Professor Marshall will be leading the Centre for Machine Intelligence. James brings a potent mix of industry experience and academic excellence, and has a broad and inclusive view of AI research at Sheffield. He recognises the strong contribution that all of our faculties can make to the advancement of AI and the debate about its potential pitfalls. The CMI has already established strong foundations on which James can build, for example through establishing a dedicated AI Research Engineering (AIRE) team led by Professor Haiping Lu, growing links with the Alan Turing Institute and regular events that bring together a vibrant community of more than 350 AI researchers at Sheffield.”

For more information on the University of Sheffield’s Centre for Machine Intelligence, visit: https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/machine-intelligence 

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