AI task force aims to expand federal research opportunities beyond big tech

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The National Artificial Intelligence Research Resource is planning to put out a roadmap in December which outlines how the federal government can recruit more diverse talent for AI research and development opportunities.

A task force developing recommendations for a National Artificial Intelligence Research Resource is focusing on expanding AI research and development opportunities beyond the current scope of big tech companies and wealthy research institutions, according to the founding director of the White House National Artificial Intelligence Initiative Office.

Lynne Parker, who served as director of the AI initiative office since 2018 before leaving her post in August, said the federal government faces a number of "frustrating" challenges when it comes to expanding data accessibility, from a lack of funding to curation and privacy concerns. 

The former director and co-chair of the National Artificial Intelligence Research Resource (NAIRR) task force said on Thursday on a webcast hosted by FCW sibling publications Nextgov and Defense One that a roadmap the group plans to release in December will outline a path forward for the federal government to improve nationwide access to data-driven AI research opportunities. 

"This is a challenge for our nation, because we need to get more people involved in AI [research and development], not just the folks at these elite institutions," Parker said. "One of the limiting factors right now … is not having access to the data that's co-located with the computing."

The objective of the National AI Research Resource Task Force is to create a roadmap for the federal government to effectively democratize access to the data and computing required to conduct AI research and development, Parker added. 

An interim report the NAIRR task force published in May said it was "essential that the full and diverse talent of the nation contributes to the AI innovation ecosystem" to maintain U.S. leadership in AI, and called for an federated AI research resource accessible through an integrated portal overseen by a single management entity. 

It noted that "traditionally underserved communities lack sufficient representation and pathways to participation" in AI research and development, pointing to recent statistics which indicate a majority (51%) of new AI PhDs in 2020 were non-Hispanic white Americans, while just 2% were African American.  

The report also called for advisory bodies to provide adequate oversight and guidance for the development and maintenance of the NAIRR, as well as the necessary training and resource allocations for agencies to fully leverage NAIRR resources.

Congress established the task force in 2020 when it passed the National AI Initiative Act, which called on the National Science Foundation and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to study ways to develop a NAIRR, including ownership authorities and management methods, a model for governance and other requirements for security, privacy and civil rights. The group is currently receiving public feedback from key stakeholders while preparing its forthcoming report.