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NSF Stands Up AI Research Pilot to Democratize AI

The program includes partnerships with dozens of industry and government partners and delivers on the White House’s AI executive order.
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National Science Foundation headquarters. Photo Credit: JHVEPhoto/Shutterstock

The National Science Foundation (NSF) launched the National Artificial Intelligence Research Resource (NAIRR) pilot Wednesday. The program will provide support to researchers and educators working with AI across the United States, and provide access to advanced computing, datasets, software, training and user support.

The pilot, which comprises a partnership with 10 federal agencies and 19 industry organizations, will encourage cross-sector cooperation and innovation. Among its first efforts is supporting trustworthy AI research in health care, and environmental and infrastructure sustainability. NSF Office of Advanced Cyberinfrastructure Director Katie Antypas said the launch will support 25 to 50 research projects initially, but will grow soon.

“As we integrate capabilities from our partners and as the new NSF system comes online in the March and spring timeframe, we hope to be able to support hundreds of projects, 100 to 400 projects or so,” Antypas said during a briefing with reporters Tuesday.

Agencies across the federal government have partnered with NSF for the pilot launch. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) will provide open-source tools and environments available to the pilot user community, while the Department of Energy (DOE) will grant researchers access to its pre-exascale supercomputer, Summit. Other agencies like the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will provide expertise and data sets.

“Partnerships are really at the core of the pilot,” said Tess deBlanc-Knowles, NSF’s special assistant to the director for AI. “The pilot effort is going to benefit from these existing trusted relationships that we have with the research community, and really our ability to reach across the U.S. to support researchers in all states, regions, territories and institutions.”

Officials highlighted the importance of trustworthy AI research, even as the concept is still being defined. NSF Division of Information and Intelligent Systems Director Michael Litman said that research plays a key part in advancing ethical AI.

“There’s a gap between the way that machine-learning systems work out of the box and the way that we want to use them and society-relevant use cases,” Litman said. “These algorithms are really trained to mimic the data that they’re trained on. But that’s not great when the data is loaded up with biases or private information, errors, socially unacceptable language, many other things. Getting systems to do what we actually want them to do requires new advances in how they’re trained, how data is collected, how data is vetted and lots of other things.”

AI leaders aims to democratize research into the technology to advance efforts toward ethical and responsible AI.

“The NAIRR pilot is really needed because the resources needed to even begin participating in the ecosystem have become increasingly concentrated and inaccessible to many, many communities that are really essential for developing a healthy and responsible AI ecosystem,” Antypas said during the briefing. “The pilot is the first step to bridging this gap and will provide access to the research and education community across our country, all 50 states and territories.”

DeBlanc-Knowles said that industry, academia and government are working in concert to create better AI and make the U.S. a leader in AI development.

“There’s a shared priority of addressing a critical resource gap in the AI community,” she said.

According to NSF, the pilot operations will be organized into four focus areas:

  • NAIRR Open will enable open AI research through access to diverse AI resources via the NAIRR Pilot Portal and coordinated allocations.

  • NAIRR Secure will enable AI research requiring privacy and security-preserving resources and will assemble exemplar privacy-preserving resources. NIH and DOE will lead NAIRR Secure.

  • NAIRR Software will facilitate and investigate interoperable use of AI software, platforms, tools and services for NAIRR pilot resources.

  • NAIRR Classroom will reach new communities through education, training, user support and outreach.

The White House executive order on AI directed NSF to stand up the NAIRR pilot within 90 days of the order’s October signing. The NAIRR pilot is one step to an all-of-government approach to making AI available and useable to all, deBlanc-Knowles said.

“This is just the beginning. We hope to continue to bring partners on board after the launch, integrating in new resources as the pilot matures,” deBlanc-Knowles said Tuesday.” In doing so, [we] extend the reach of the pilot so that we can serve more researchers and educators and more places and start to really make progress toward that bigger vision of the NAIRR of democratizing AI.”

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