Science & Nature

New NSF program seeks to engage minority serving institutions in artificial intelligence research

New NSF program seeks to engage minority serving institutions in artificial intelligence research thumbnail

The U.S. National Science Foundation — in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Science and Technology Directorate; U.S Department of Agriculture, National Institute of Food and Agriculture; National Institute of Standards and Technology and U.S. Department of Defense, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering — has established the Expanding AI Innovation through Capacity Building and Partnerships program. ExpandAI aims to significantly broaden the participation of minority serving institutions in artificial intelligence research, education and workforce development through capacity development projects and partnerships within the NSF-led National AI Research Institutes ecosystem.

“In close collaboration with our federal partners and with the AI Institutes program, NSF Is launching ExpandAI in order to enable an even broader community of researchers to advance the Nation’s AI capacity in scientific power and workforce.” said Margaret Martonosi, NSF assistant director for Computer and Information Science and Engineering. “We hope to see a more diverse, more inclusive participation of talented innovators from across our nation, driving AI research and innovation that continues to build our country’s AI leading capabilities and workforce development.”

ExpandAI directly addresses the strategies defined in The National Artificial Intelligence Research and Development Strategic Plan: 2019 Update, which defines the priority areas for federal investments in AI research and development to “better understand the national AI R&D workforce needs and expand public-private partnerships to accelerate advances in AI.” As the largest non-defense federal funder of AI research, NSF invests over $600 million dollars annually in AI research and education. More than $360 million dollars have been invested in the establishment of 18 AI Institutes, and more grants have funded research in critical areas of foundational AI research. ExpandAI seeks to further broaden who engages in AI research.

“We are excited to partner with other federal agencies in this effort. We envision that this program will not only broaden minority serving institution participation in AI research and education but also inspire culturally relevant AI research activities that address the specific needs of these institutions and their communities,” said NSF Program Director Abiodun (Abby) Ilumoka, who is also the program co-lead.

According to NSF Program Director James Donlon, program lead for both the National AI Research Institutes program and the new ExpandAI initiative, “AI Institutes have proven to be effective nexus points for engaging a broad community in AI research and education. This early momentum inspired NSF to initiate the ExpandAI program as a means of inviting many more minority serving institutions to lead in AI. We are encouraged by the enthusiastic reception that this program has received from our Institutes.”

The ExpandAI program consists of two tracks:

  • Track 1: ExpandAI Capacity Building Pilots (CAP). This track focuses on capacity building for minority serving institutionss that do not have existing AI programs.
  • Track 2: The ExpandAI Partnership (PARTNER). This track is an opportunity for minority serving institutions to scale up already-established AI research and education programs, and to initiate and leverage new collaborations with AI Institutes.

Minority serving institutions are a vital source of the talent and diversity that will be critical to future AI innovation. This program is a new funding opportunity for a wide range of minority serving institutions that serve communities historically underrepresented in AI including, but not limited to, African Americans/Black American, Hispanic Americans, American Indians, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders.

Diverse participants in AI research will be critical to advancing the field, conducting responsible AI research through more inclusive participatory design, and promoting positive societal outcomes of AI innovation. Where some minority serving institutions are not yet significantly engaged in AI research and education there is enormous untapped potential to increase talent development and collaboration through federally supported AI research. This program makes important investments to develop capacity for new AI programs at minority serving institutions, as well as partnerships between minority serving institutions and AI Institutes.

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