MI5 sponsor data science challenge that will assist in spotting terrorism

Posted: 3 April 2017 | By Darcie Thompson-Fields

The UK’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory is launching a challenge to discover the brightest minds in data science and set them to solving real-world problems.

The Data Science Challenge, announced today (03/04), is using crowdsourcing to engage the data science community to develop cutting edge solutions to defence and security problems. The challenge is part of a wider programme set out in the Defence Innovation Initiative that aims to bring together individuals, academia and industry in an open innovation ecosystem.

The Data Science Challenge is formed of two problems that will test the participants’ ability to mine large unstructured datasets to extract useful information:


This challenge asks participants to detect and classify vehicles such as buses, cars and motorbikes, from a set of aerial images. Being able to automatically detect and categorise vehicles in aerial imagery will improve how quickly they can be assessed and identified.


Using news material, this challenge asks participants to predict topic tags for classifying unseen reports so that they can be used to improve awareness and understanding. Analysing data in documents such as media reports will be used to provide a better understanding of a potential crisis situation, growing instability in a particular region or specific theme such as terrorism.

“Our Innovation Initiative is about harnessing diverse and talented individuals from business, academia, and beyond to keep the UK ahead of our adversaries.” Said Minister for Defence Procurement, Harriett Baldwin.

“In this latest challenge, supported by our £800 million Innovation Fund, we are calling on experts to develop the latest technology to crunch big data and identify the solutions that will keep us safe.”

Registrations for the challenge are now open and participants have between the 3rd April and 17th May to develop and submit their solution. The top three entrants will receive cash prizes with £20,000 for first, £12,000 for second and £8,000 for third. The winners will be announced at the end of May.

“Around the world, governments are using the power of data to meet many of the huge challenges that they are facing. By analysing complex, evolving information, data science can provide invaluable insight that informs how we can best respond to event.” Said Principal Data Scientist at Dstl, James Srinivasan.

“There is real talent out there and we want to encourage the curious to experiment and learn. We are determined to push the boundaries of what can be done, and to keep striving to always be better. This is why we are launching the Data Science Challenge today.”

The Data Science Challenge is sponsored by Dstl, the Government Office for Science, SIS and MI5.

You can register for the challenge and find out more at

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