Seminar: AI & Bias in Astronomy

Time: 14:00 - 15:00

Venue: Room 3.009 Alliance Manchester Business school, Booth Street West, Manchester, M5 6PB

Speaker: Anna Scaife (University of Manchester & The Alan Turing Institute)

Title: AI & Bias in Astronomy


The expected volume of data from the new generation of scientific facilities such as the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) has motivated the expanded use of semi-automatic and automatic machine learning algorithms for scientific discovery in astronomy. In this field, the robust and systematic use of machine learning faces a number of specific challenges including a paucity of labelled data for training - paradoxically, although we have too much data, we don't have enough, a clear understanding of the effect of biases introduced due to observational and intrinsic astrophysical selection effects in the training data, and motivating a quantitative statistical representation of outcomes from decisive AI applications. In this seminar I will discuss the motivations and potential for using AI solutions in astronomy, with particular reference to radio astronomy and the SKA, and how the extreme data rates of next generation instrumentation are driving automation in scientific analysis. I will also talk about the inherent biases that AI methods can introduce, why astronomy data may be particularly susceptible to these problems and discuss some of the potential methods for quantifying, understanding and mitigating the effect of these biases.


Anna Scaife is Professor of Radio Astronomy at Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics and academic Co-Director of Policy@Manchester at the University of Manchester. She holds a Turing AI Fellowship from the Alan Turing Institute focusing on AI for discovery in data intensive astrophysics. In 2014, Anna was honoured by the World Economic Forum as one of thirty scientists under the age of 40 selected for their contributions to advancing the frontiers of science, engineering or technology in areas of high societal impact. In 2017 she was awarded the Blaauw Chair in Astrophysics (prize chair) at the University of Groningen in The Netherlands for excellence in research, broad knowledge of astronomy and an outstanding international status in astronomy. In 2019, Anna received the Jackson-Gwilt Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society, awarded for outstanding invention, improvement, or development of astronomical instrumentation or techniques.