Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Science, Tech, Eng and Public Policy


Rapidly developing digital technologies, together with social and business trends, are providing huge opportunities for innovation in product and service markets, and also in government processes. Technology developments drive socioeconomic and behavioural changes and vice versa, and the rate of change in these makes tracking and responding to high-speed developments a significant challenge in public and private sectors alike. Agile governance and policy-making for emerging technologies is likely to become a key theme in strategic thinking for the public and private sectors.
Particular trends that are challenging now, and will increasingly challenge society include developments in technologies on the outskirts of the internet. These include Artificial Intelligence, not just in the cloud but in Edge computing, and in Internet of Things devices and networks. Alongside and in conjunction with this ecosystem, is Distributed Ledger Technology. Together this ensemble of technologies will enable innovations that promote productivity, like peer-to-peer dynamic contracts and other decision processes, with or without human sight or intervention. However, the ensemble's autonomy, proliferation and use in critical applications, makes the potential for hacking and similar attacks very significant, with the likelihood of them growing to become an issue of strategic national importance.
To address this challenge, and to preserve the immense economic and productivity benefits that will come from the successful deployment and application of digital technologies 'at the edge', a focused initiative is needed. Ideally, this will use the UK's current platform of experience in the safe and secure application of the Internet of Things. The contributors to this platform include PETRAS partners, and several other centres of excellence around the UK.
It is therefore proposed to build an inclusive PETRAS 2 Research Centre with national strategic value, on the established and successful platform of the PETRAS Hub. This will inherit its governance and management models, which have demonstrated the ability to coordinate and convene collaboration across 11 universities and 110 industrial and government User Partners, but will importantly step up its mission and inclusivity through open research calls for new and existing academic partners. PETRAS 2 will maintain an agile and shared research agenda that views social and physical science challenges with equal measure, and covers a broad range of Technology Readiness Levels, particularly those close to market. It will operate as a virtual centre, providing a magnet for collaboration for user partners and a single expert voice for government. User partner engagement is likely to be strong following the successes of the current PETRAS programme, which has raised over £1m in cash contributions from partners during 2018.
The new PETRAS 2 'Secure Digital Technologies at the Edge' methodology will inherit the best of PETRAS, including open calls to the UK research community and a partnership-building fund that allows a responsive approach to opportunities that emerge from existing and new user and academic partnerships. PETRAS 2 will be driven by sectoral cybersecurity priorities while retaining a discovery research agenda to horizon-scan and develop understanding of new threats and opportunities. The scope of projects and the associated Innovate UK SDTaP demonstrators, spans early to late TRLs and aims to put knowledge into real user partner practice. Furthermore, the development of many early career researchers through PETRAS 2 research activities should lead to a step change in our national capability and capacity to address this highly dynamic area of socio-technical opportunity and risk.

Planned Impact

The overarching aim of the proposed PETRAS 2 Centre is to build the flexible national capacity for creating a comprehensive & systematic understanding of the opportunities and threats arising when edge computing nodes are deployed, migrating AI/ML technologies to the periphery of the internet and local IoT networks. To deliver this aim, the PETRAS 2 Centre will reach beyond academia and engage with the public, private and civil society sectors in the UK and internationally. The key impact objectives for the Centre will therefore include, but not be limited to, the following;

1. To provide strategic advice and policy insight, becoming the go-to resource on SDTaP issues for the public and private sector: PETRAS 2 will provide a nexus between the two communities, academic and user, matching a base of existing published work and research agendas that can be executed with PETRAS funding. Critically, this provide a coherent, expert, trusted view which decision-makers can rely upon to be responsive to their needs. Given there is a proliferation of organisations and initiatives dealing with the challenges and opportunities that data and AI present, both within the UK and internationally, the Centre will work closely with these existing organisations (for example, the Ada Lovelace Institute, Alan Turing Institute, the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation, the Office for AI, the Information Commissioner's Office and the AI Council), to provide a unique, impactful contribution at the focal point of IoT, AI and Cyber security .

2. To functionally improve the capacity of government to rise to the challenge of the 'arms race' of ever more complex sociotechnical systems and threats: We will produce a cohort of post-doctoral experts with experience of cross-disciplinary working and challenge-oriented thinking. They will feed the growing need for cybersecurity expertise in government and industry. We recognise the need to draw from all areas of society and will encourage those with talent from outside academia to engage, and where relevant, embark on academic careers. In this way, we will ensure diversity is a key consideration in our pathways to impact activities.

3. To increase the early adoption of new methods and technologies by our industrial, service and government User Partners: We will achieve this through translating and evaluating many of our research outcomes to real environments. This process will be facilitated by the incorporation at governance-level of the Innovate UK SDTaP Demonstrator and Commercialisation programmes. This will also increase the confidence of our industrial, service and government User Partners, thereby promoting the early adoption of new methods and technologies.

Our key organisation design objective is to create an inclusive Centre that can attract and closely connect experts and organisations, together forming a strategic national research capability in the cybersecurity of devices and networks at the edge of the internet. We will deliver this objective by using innovative processes for the synthesis and communication of the research programme which will ensure that the unique benefit of the PETRAS socio-technical approach is translated effectively to industry, government and broader non-technical audiences. Each year, in addition to an IET partnered conference and project level activity, the Management Team will run at least four 'Centre level' events, designed to fully exploit the value of the collective insights and expertise of the Centre.


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