The Main building of the University with the South of Glasgow behind it
Credit: University of Glasgow

World Changers in Focus: October

By Kate McIntosh

 A deep dive into the world-changing research by Team UofG.

Headlines were made for “World Changing Glasgow” this month when University of Glasgow alumnus David MacMillan won the Nobel Prize in chemistry. The Glasgow Guardian covered his success at the time, but this instalment of our World Changers column takes a look at some of the other impactful research carried out by the University this month.

A study carried out by the University’s Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology, in collaboration with the Department of Computer Science and Technology at the University of Cambridge, aimed to investigate how Deep Neural Networks (DNNs) “think”. DNNs, an artificial intelligence (AI) technology, are known to be good models of human perception, in terms of the decisions they make. However, less is known about the processing that goes on as the networks make these decisions, meaning that we cannot predict future situations in which they might start to produce errors. Whilst we may believe that the networks are “thinking” like humans, but really they are just producing the same end product. In this study, human participants were asked to rate the similarity of randomly generated faces to known identities. Five DNNs, which had all been trained differently, were activated to predict human ratings. Their varying success rates will, the researchers hope, lead to a better understanding of how machine learning works and AI technology which functions more like real human beings. 

A University of Glasgow study, in partnership with the Forces in Mind Trust, into suicide rates among UK military veterans was published on 15 October. The study, led by Dr Beverly Bergman, found that the risk of suicide was no higher in veterans than non-veterans, although a history of mood disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder was significantly more common. Dr Bergman was surprised that the research also found that the time of highest suicide risk in veterans was about 20 years after leaving military service. This means that the age veterans are most vulnerable to suicide is in their forties, which is the same as that of the general population. The findings may be of assistance in developing strategies for preventing suicide in veterans. Mike Ellicock, Chief Executive of the Forces in Mind Trust, which funded the study, said it was “useful to know that [veterans] may be at greater risk some time after this transition to civilian life because this could have implications for the support which is offered”.

The Moshan Blockchain Lab, a collaboration between researchers from the University and Victory Bench (VB) Hyperledger, a technology company based in Hangzhou, was officially launched on 21 October. Blockchain, the digital ledger system which underpins the cryptocurrency Bitcoin “has a great deal of potential still left untapped”, according to Dr Lei Zhang, the laboratory’s leader. The £1.3m partnership with VB Hyperledger “is setting out to solve some of the problems of [Blockchain technology] and expand the possibilities of how it can be used,” Dr Zhang, of the University’s James Watt School of Engineering, explained. Avenues that will be explored include how to scale up the technology for use in areas such as banking and healthcare, and the possibility of shrinking Blockchain’s carbon footprint. Wang Bo, the chairman of VB Hyperledger, spoke of his hope that the laboratory will “integrate the advantages and characteristics of related disciplines such as mathematics, computing, communications and finance to promote cross-disciplinary integration to achieve major breakthroughs in the basic theory of blockchain”. 


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