New AI Research Funding to Focus on 6 Areas

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The federal government aims to capitalize on the rapid innovation in the artificial intelligence sector.

The Biden administration is opening seven new artificial intelligence laboratories, fueled by $140 million in federal funding, the White House announced Thursday. The National Science Foundation will helm operations, with support from fellow government agencies. The institutes will focus on six research topics: 

  • Trustworthy AI, under the University of Maryland-led Institute for Trustworthy AI in Law & Society.
  • Intelligent agents for cybersecurity, under the University of California Santa Barbara-led AI Institute for Agent-based Cyber Threat Intelligence and Operation.
  • Climate-smart agriculture and forestry, under the University of Minnesota Twin Cities-led AI Institute for Climate-Land Interactions, Mitigation, Adaptation, Tradeoffs and Economy.
  • Neural and cognitive foundations of AI, under the Columbia University-led AI Institute for Artificial and Natural Intelligence.
  • AI for decision-making, under the Carnegie Mellon University-led AI-Institute for Societal Decision Making. 
  • And AI-augmented learning to expand education opportunities and improve student outcomes, under both the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign-led AI Institute for Inclusive Intelligent Technologies for Education and the University at Buffalo-led AI Institute for Exceptional Education.

The broad goals within these research initiatives are to harness AI technologies to support human health and development research, support cyber defenses and aid climate-resilient agricultural practices.

Public sector-funded research and enhanced private sector cooperation are two of the new commitments the Biden administration will incorporate in its evolving tech policy surrounding emerging and critical technology systems.

The major influx in new funding signals the federal government’s intent to continue innovation in AI and machine learning technologies, while simultaneously working to mitigate risks posed by more generative technologies. 

“The National AI Research Institutes are a critical component of our nation’s AI innovation, infrastructure, technology, education and partnerships ecosystem,” said NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan. “These institutes are driving discoveries that will ensure our country is at the forefront of the global AI revolution.”

Other supporting agencies that will take part in the NSF’s seven new research laboratories include: the National Institute of Standards and Technology; the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate; the Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture; the Department of Education’s Institute of Education Science; and the Department of Defense’s Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, among others.

As the federal government pours more money into multi-agency research efforts, the private sector is stepping up to address the threats posed by the more generative—and disruptive—AI systems that have made headlines for producing human-like content. 

CEOs from some of the tech companies spearheading AI innovation—namely Sam Altman of Open AI, Sundar Pichai from Google, Chair and CEO Satya Nadella of Microsoft, and Dario Amodei of Anthropic—met Thursday with Vice President Kamala Harris and a team of senior officials from the Biden-Harris administration to discuss the shared responsibility between public and private sectors in creating AI systems designed with safety as a fundamental feature.

“Given the role these CEOs and their companies play in America’s AI innovation ecosystem, Administration officials also emphasized the importance of their leadership, called on them to model responsible behavior, and to take action to ensure responsible innovation and appropriate safeguards, and protect people’s rights and safety,” a press release stated. “This includes taking action consistent with the Biden-Harris Administration’s Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights and the AI Risk Management Framework.”

President Biden briefly joined the meeting to emphasize the need for “safe and secure” AI systems. The three areas private sector leadership discussed with the administration were greater transparency with policymakers on AI use and design, validating system safety and system resilience in the face of cyberattacks.

“Administration officials and CEOs agreed that more work is needed to develop and ensure appropriate safeguards and protections, and CEOs committed to continue engaging with the Administration to ensure the American people are able to benefit from AI innovation,” the press announcement read.