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National Science Foundation to invest $100m in AI research institutes

by Chuck Martin
Article ImageDealing with a wide range of subjects, from extreme weather preparedness to primary education

The US National Science Foundation (NSF) is set to spend more than $100 million to establish five AI research institutes across the country.

The institutes will be led by NSF in partnership with the US Department of Agriculture's (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture, the US Department of Homeland's Security Science and Technology Directorate, and the US Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration.

"NSF's long history of investment in AI research and workforce development paved the way for many of the breakthrough commercial technologies permeating and driving society today," NSF director Sethuraman Panchanathan said.

"We are creating hubs for academia, industry, and government to collaborate on profound discoveries and develop new capabilities to advance American competitiveness for decades to come."

Nurture the future American workforce

The institutes are set to be part of a broader national network that pursues “transformational advances in sectors of societal impact, from extreme weather preparedness to K-12 education.”

The USDA is providing an additional $40 million over the next five years for two additional institutes, through a joint program.

The $140m investment is part of the White House pledge to spend a total of $1 billion on AI and quantum research initiatives.

The White House plans to increase funding for non-defense AI projects in 2021 by 54% over fiscal 2020.

The five new AI institutes will be dedicated to specific subjects:

  • Research on Trustworthy AI in Weather, Climate, and Coastal Oceanography;

  • Foundations of Machine Learning;

  • Student-AI Teaming;

  • Molecular Discovery, Synthetic Strategy, and Manufacturing (or the NSF Molecule Maker Lab);

  • and the Institute for Artificial Intelligence and Fundamental Interactions.

For example, the AI Institute for Artificial Intelligence and Fundamental Interactions, led by a team at MIT, will focus on workforce development, digital learning, outreach, and knowledge transfer programs.

Meanwhile the AI Institute for Molecular Discovery, Synthetic Strategy, and Manufacturing, led by the University of Illinois, aims to develop AI-enabled tools to accelerate automated chemical synthesis.

The two USDA-funded teams are the Institute for Next Generation Food Systems, led by a team at the University of California, Davis, and the AI Institute for Future Agricultural Resilience, Management, and Sustainability, led by a team at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

"The National AI Institutes being awarded comprise large, multi-disciplinary, and multi-sector collaborations: they bring together consortia of dozens of universities and other organizations, ultimately spanning academia, government, and industry," said Michael Kratsios, CTO of the US government.

"Over the next five years, some of the best minds in the country will be tackling some of the grandest challenges that we face, both in terms of new AI techniques as well as breakthroughs in fields of science and engineering and sectors of our economy. Along the way, they will nurture the future American workforce in AI research and practice."

NSF already invests more than $500 million a year in AI activities as the largest federal driver of non-defense AI research and development.

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