StoryFutures at Royal Holloway, University of London and University of Surrey create new UKRI Centre for Doctoral Training in AI for Digital Media Inclusion

  • StoryFutures
  • October 31st 2023
  • Professor James Bennett

A transformative AI Training programme designed with inclusion for all at its heart.

We welcome today’s government official announcement and are delighted that the University of Surrey and the StoryFutures unit at Royal Holloway, University of London, will be the home of a new UKRI Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in AI for Digital Media Inclusion.

This CDT will combine Surrey’s world-leading expertise in people-centred artificial intelligence (AI) with StoryFutures at Royal Holloway’s track record of innovation in next-generation digital media. We will establish a unique creative industry hub for high-quality training in responsible AI, inclusive design and creative skills, catalysing UK leadership in media inclusion for the whole population.

Digital media inclusion is essential for equality across society - it is the primary interface for access to education, healthcare, entertainment, finance and government services, but current media is often produced as one-size-fits-all, creating barriers to societal inclusion.

AI has the potential to transform media to intelligent content that dynamically adapts to individual preferences addressing the needs of diverse audiences, and encompassing factors such as age, language, neurodiversity, sensory and physical abilities.

What makes our training programme unique?

The CDT will train a new generation of more than 80 industry-ready PhDs to lead the transformation to responsible AI-enabled inclusive media.This will forge a ground-breaking challenge-led model, co-designed and co-delivered with creative industry and end-user partners to remove significant real-world barriers to media inclusion.

Working in multi-disciplinary cohort teams to develop leadership, peer-learning and teamwork, we aim to deliver comprehensive multi-faceted AI solutions combining creative, technical, behavioural, linguistic, social and legal expertise, designed with inclusion for all at their heart.

Our PhD cohorts will benefit from a CDT that brings together two world-leading centres; Surrey’s Institute for People-centred AI, number one in the UK, with over 35 years of pioneering research at the forefront of fundamental AI and machine learning and - StoryFutures’ experience of leading creative innovation in next-generation inclusive digital media at Royal Holloway.

Our partnership with the creative industry

AI-enabled inclusive media is a key driver for the creative industries to grow audience size, loyalty and revenue but this is severely limited by access to individuals with key AI and creative skills.

Creating digital media content and services that are inclusive for all is essential for societal equality and a business necessity to increase engagement for diverse audiences, the 'Purple pound' alone is valued at over £274bn per year in the UK. Our challenge-led training will foster a responsible creative AI ecosystem partnering with 50+ organisations from big-tech corporations to creative SMEs and user organisations to address real-world inclusive media challenges and realise the impact on society and the UK economy.

Professor Max Lu, President and Vice-Chancellor, University of Surrey, said:

"AI can be a true leveller of people and a liberator of ideas. At Surrey, we focus on nurturing the soul of AI with inclusivity, diversity and fairness at its heart. We welcome the announcement of the CDT in AI for Digital Media Inclusion. This is a recognition of the importance of people-centred AI doctoral training and a vehicle to help us deliver a transformative challenge-led programme in collaboration with Royal Holloway and all the industry partners who have signed up for this innovative approach."

Professor Julie Sanders, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of Royal Holloway, University of London, said:

“Alongside our partners at the University of Surrey, this new Centre for Doctoral Training in AI will allow us to continue supporting the next generation of leaders within the UK’s creative industries. I am proud that the new CDT, as part of our StoryFutures unit here at Royal Holloway, will build on our initiatives and programmes that create real-world change from world-leading research. Through partnerships such as this, we can look to unlock inclusive research for the creative industries, and help produce transformative education and research which addresses the needs of today and the future.”

Minister of State at the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, MP Paul Scully said:

“Safe, responsible AI innovation will deliver benefits right across the economy and society. The advances it could unlock for our creative industries are the perfect example of this. With government backing, this centre will break down accessibility barriers in digital media experiences, meaning everyone can access information and entertainment regardless of age, background or disabilities."

Professor Adrian Hilton, Director of the Surrey Institute for People-Centred AI, said:

"We are truly excited about delivering our CDT in AI for Digital Media Inclusion. We will forge an innovative challenge-led training programme, seed a new generation of transformative creative AI professionals and propel the UK to become a global leader in future inclusive media services."

Professor James Bennett, Director, StoryFutures, at Royal Holloway, University of London, said:

“This is a first-of-its kind programme that is going to break new ground and pull down barriers through, and to, the future of storytelling. Using AI for inclusion will enable us to provide new tools for creatives and new experiences for audiences that ensure diversity is never an after-thought. By bringing together StoryFutures excellence in creative R&D with University of Surrey’s leadership in AI, we’re writing a new chapter in the UK creative industries story of world-leading innovation.”

Professor Polly Dalton, Head of Audiences, StoryFutures at Royal Holloway, University of London, said:

“We all interact with digital media across a wide range of everyday activities, including entertainment, healthcare and education. Our new Centre seeks to transform the delivery of these services, making them more inclusive for people of all ages and backgrounds. We can’t wait to get started on this work.”

Prof. Yi-Zhe SonG, CDT inaugural Director said:

"Our CDT empowers students to become trailblazers in the AI-driven inclusive media landscape, steering the course towards a future where inclusion is central to digital media innovation. This program signifies our unwavering dedication to cultivating a more equitable, inclusive, and innovative digital landscape, positioning the UK as a global pioneer in this transformative field."

Dr Andrew Rogoyski, Director Partnerships and Innovation said:

"We’re delighted by the level of industry and third-sector support we’ve received for the project. Our partners are excited about our new challenge-led approach, about the opportunity to work closely with our students and the idea that they can take up and scale the ideas that the research creates."


Notes to Editors

About The Surrey Institute for People-Centred AI

Taking a different approach to much AI activity in the UK, the Surrey Institute for People-Centred AI puts the needs of individuals and society at the very heart of everything it does: we believe that the starting point for AI should be people rather than technology.

This people-centred approach drives our research and enables us to design AI technologies and systems which are ethical, responsible and inclusive. The pan-University Institute brings together Surrey’s core AI-related expertise in vision, speech and signal processing, computer science, and mathematics, with its domain expertise across engineering and physical sciences, human and animal health, law and regulation, business, finance and the arts and social sciences. With this distinctive approach, we build on Surrey’s track record of collaboration with industry, the public sector, government and other relevant institutions to develop solutions to shared challenges.

To find more details, visit or follow @peoplecentredai

About StoryFutures at Royal Holloway, University of London

StoryFutures is the UK’s National Centre for Immersive Storytelling, run by Royal Holloway, University of London, and the National Film and Television School (NFTS). Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation, StoryFutures develops cutting-edge creative training and research programmes, to ensure the UK creative workforce is the most skilled in the world in the use of virtual, augmented and real-time production technology for immersive storytelling. StoryFutures unit at Royal Holloway has been announced as the preferred bidder for the CoSTAR National Lab, a £51.1m investment by the UK government to ensure the UK's screen and performance sectors have the infrastructure and skills to remain competitive and relevant in a fast-changing environment. The vision for the CoSTAR National Lab is to bring together world leaders in technology, research and story to support innovation for the UK's creative industries. Our partners include the University of Surrey, Abertay University, the National Film and Television School, Pinewood Studios, BT and disguise.

To find out more about StoryFutures, visit or follow @storyfutures.

About Royal Holloway, University of London

Royal Holloway, University of London, is ranked in the top 30 universities in the UK[1]. Through world- class research that expands minds and changes lives, the dedication of our teachers and the feel of the Royal Holloway experience, ours is a community that inspires individuals to succeed academically, socially and personally.

The University was founded by two social reformers who pioneered the ideal of education and knowledge for all who could benefit. Their vision lives on today. As one of the UK’s leading research-intensive universities, we are home to some of the world’s foremost authorities in the sciences, arts, business, economics and law. We are strengthened by diversity, and welcome students and academics who travel from all over the world to study and work here, ensuring an international and multi-cultural perspective within a close knit and historic campus.

[1] The Times and Sunday Times, 2024

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