The UK Department of Trade & Industry is now almost two years into its three-year UKP5.75m programme to raise awareness of neural computing and convince UK business users that they can apply it to their advantage. When the programme runs out at the end of next year, the Department hopes it will still be able […]
The UK Department of Trade & Industry is now almost two years into its three-year UKP5.75m programme to raise awareness of neural computing and convince UK business users that they can apply it to their advantage. When the programme runs out at the end of next year, the Department hopes it will still be able to offer support partly through trade associations. The Department is also in discussions with the Neural Computing Applications Forum based in Egham, Surrey as this group may take over much of the work that the Department has been carrying out, such as the Directory of Suppliers of neural computing software and companies specialising in the field. The details will be sorted out over the coming months. The Neural Computing Applications Forum currently holds meetings every three months so that members from both the realms of academic research and those trying out business applications can get together to discuss what they are doing with neural networks and share and solve problems they are facing in the projects they are undertaking. The Department will be sponsoring the Neural Computing Forum’s next meeting in London in January. In the first stages of the Department’s programme, it held national one day workshops to introduce companies to the technology and show practical demonstrations of what the technology can offer the business user. It has set up a dedicated hot-line providing details of researchers, suppliers and potential applications for companies that want to participate in the programme, and now has a database of 9,000 individuals registered with the programme, which is approximately 6,000 companies. Mid-term surveys carried out a few months ago to see how effective the project had been in achieving its main aim of raising awareness showed that 80% of respondents said their knowledge had increased and about half of those felt that they now had a pretty good understanding of the technology, with 16% actively investigating using neural networks in their businesses. The six clubs set up by the project are developing applications in the specific areas of data mining, condition monitoring, data processing, process control, automatic recognition and financial forecasting. In June of next year the Department is holding a conference at the Commonwealth Institute in London, which is to be structured around what the clubs have been doing. Organisations involved in the clubs have committed resources to carry out research. The Department has also changed changed the programme slightly in response to feedback from participants and to build on the awareness of neural computing that already exists in the UK and to reach a wider audience. It has made regional seminars to company representatives smaller with around 12 to 15 attendees so that the discussion can be more focused. If collaboration between the Department of Trade & Industry and these other bodies goes ahead it may be the point at which academic research and popular use of neural networks merge to become more mainstream applications without the mystique currently surrounding them.