Chris Bishop elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society

May 3, 2017   |   John Roach

Chris Bishop, a world-renowned expert in artificial intelligence and machine learning, was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, the oldest scientific academy in continuous existence, on Friday.

“I am totally delighted. It’s a pinnacle of my career,” said Bishop, distinguished scientist and director of Microsoft Research Cambridge, the European arm of Microsoft’s research organization.

Bishop is among 50 other scientists from across the United Kingdom and Commonwealth and 10 Foreign Members elected to the Royal Society, including pioneers in understanding the chemical origins of life, and discovering how humans operate on a 24-hour cycle.

“Science is a great triumph of human achievement and has contributed hugely to the prosperity and health of our world. In the coming decades it will play an increasingly crucial role in tackling the great challenges of our time including food, energy, health and the environment. The new Fellows of the Royal Society have already contributed much to science and it gives me great pleasure to welcome them into our ranks,” said Venki Ramakrishnan, President of the Royal Society, in announcing the news earlier today.

Adding AI to the ranks
The Royal Society’s origins date back to founding charters written in the 1660s that outline a mission to recognize, promote and support excellence in science and to encourage the development and use of science for the benefit of humanity.

Adding an expert in artificial intelligence to the society’s ranks “reflects the emergence of machine learning as the most transformational technology in computing,” said Bishop. “Machine learning underpins the current excitement around artificial intelligence.”

Bishop is already working with the Royal Society on public engagement activities around its project on machine learning, which is a branch of artificial intelligence that allows computer systems to learn from examples, data and experience.

“I look forward to continuing and extending this involvement,” he said.

Broad scientific interests
Bishop was fascinated by science and technology at an early age. His peers nicknamed him “professor.” Hal, the sentient computer in the 1968 movie, “2001: A Space Odyssey,” sparked his interest in artificial intelligence.

Physics captured his academic attention as an undergraduate at the University of Oxford and for his PhD at the University of Edinburgh.

The training led him to the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy, a UK national research laboratory, where he focused on tokamak experiments, which involve a large machine that heats hydrogen to sun-like temperatures to get it to fuse into helium and release energy.

While there, Bishop started reading about new developments in neural networks, a machine learning technique. “I got very excited by the idea that machines could learn from experience and decided to get involved by applying neural networks to data from tokamak experiments,” he said.

Distinguished career track
Bishop eventually decided to work on artificial intelligence full time and started a research group focused on machine learning at Aston University in Birmingham, UK. He was recruited to join Microsoft Research Cambridge in 1997 and was named lab director in 2015.

Current projects with Microsoft Research include collaborations with medical specialists to develop new applications of machine learning, including a project with the University of Manchester to understand factors that influence the development of allergies and asthma in children.

“I have always had broad scientific interests. I particularly value cross-disciplinary research because the solution to problems in the real world often requires input from more than one specialty,” said Bishop.

In addition to his responsibilities at Microsoft Research Cambridge, Bishop holds a Chair in computer science at the University of Edinburgh.

Bishop has won multiple awards and honors for his research achievements and his broader contributions to the field of science.

He is a Fellow of Darwin College, Cambridge. In 2004, he was elected Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, and in 2007 he was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

Regarding the most recent addition to this distinguished list, he said: “It’s a huge honor for a scientist to join the world’s oldest national academy of science.”

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