The Bezos Bulldozer Heads to Academia

May 13, 2020

Oxford University and AWS have teamed up for cloud based research.

Does this strike anyone else as an interesting and perhaps improbable combination? On its News and Events page, Oxford University announces, “Oxford University and Amazon Web Services Create a Test-Bed for Cloud-Based Research.” The post reveals:

“Today the University of Oxford is delighted to announce a new strategic collaboration with Amazon Web Services (AWS). The collaboration will focus on building a portfolio of new research projects relating to AI, robotics, cyber-physical systems, human-centered computing, and support to the University’s new ‘Lighthouse’ Doctoral Scholarships. This new university- industry collaboration, supported by a £7 million [about $8.7 million] gift from AWS to the Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences Division, will accelerate advances in AI and Data Science across the entire research portfolio of the University. Professor Patrick Grant, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research) University of Oxford, said: ‘Cloud computing is an essential part of modern research. A streamlined operating model for using cloud services will benefit all of our researchers. The Oxford Robotics Institute, the Cyber Physical Systems Group, and the Human Centered Computing group are leading the initial projects in the short term, but I look forward to growing the collaboration to bring research benefits across our research work more broadly.’”

For its part, AWS is happy to demonstrate how its products can help academia. That is, after all, one more sector it can add to its collection of those becoming dependent on its platform. The press release quotes members of each Oxford department involved: the Applied AI Lab, the Robotics Institute, Human-Centered Computing, and the Cyber Physical Systems group. See the post for each of those perspectives. I am particularly curious about the Human-Centered Computing professor’s vision for an Institute of Responsible Technology, but details are not provided.

As for that Lighthouse Doctoral Scholarship program, it will fund 25 PhD students for the years 2020-2022 “who are applying to the Centre for Doctoral Training in Autonomous Intelligent Machines and Systems, or to the research laboratories of the supervisors in the human-machine collaboration initiative.” This will help the university toward its existing goal of adding 300 graduate scholarships between 2018 and 2023.

Between the funding, the scholarships, and the technology, both AWS and Oxford have high hopes for an advanced, multi-national, “cloud-first” research initiative.

Like IBM, tie ups with big name universities may payoff in useful ways: Recruitment, research, virtue signaling, etc.

Too bad for the University of Washington maybe?

Cynthia Murrell, May 12, 2020


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