UCSD, AIST Forge Tighter Alliance with AI-Focused MOU

By Tiffany Trader

January 18, 2018

The rich history of collaboration between UC San Diego and AIST in Japan is getting richer. The organizations entered into a five-year memorandum of understanding on January 10. The MOU represents the continuation of a 15-year relationship between UCSD and Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) that goes back to 2002 with the establishment of the Pacific Rim Application and Grid Middleware Assembly (PRAGMA).

With the upcoming spring launch of AIST’s AI Bridging Cloud Infrastructure (ABCI), the deployment of the GPU-powered CHASE-CI machine learning infrastructure (see our coverage here), COMET’s GPU expansion, and the announcement of UCSD’s Data Science Institute, it’s easy to understand the enthusiasm for the opportunities afforded by the MOU, which builds on a shared history and mutual interests and activities around cutting-edge developments in supercomputing AI and deep learning.

The MOU covers research, education, and application of scientific knowledge in AI and more broadly data-intensive science and robotics. Target activities include the organization of workshops between the U.S. and Japan; exchange of faculty, scholars and researchers between the two campuses; collaborative infrastructure projects between UC’s Pacific Research Platform (PRP) and AIST’s AI Bridging Cloud Infastructure (ABCI) and the use of ABCI for collaborative research projects.

UCSD’s soon-to-be-launched Data Science Institute will also play a role. The institute, made possible thanks to a $75 million endowment from Taner Halicioglu (the largest ever by a UC San Diego alumnus), will be physically colocated with the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC).

Phil Papadopoulos, chief technology officer of SDSC, and Satoshi Sekiguchi, vice president of AIST, at the UCSD campus signing ceremony on Jan. 10, 2018

Leaders from both groups took part in the signing ceremony and shared remarks. In addition to the two respective project leads, Satoshi Sekiguchi, vice president of AIST, and Phil Papadopoulos, chief technology officer of SDSC, we heard from Michael Norman, director, SDSC; Larry Smarr, director, Calit2; Jeff Elman, UCSD Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and one of the co-directors of the new Data Science Institute; and Jason Haga of AIST, speaking on behalf of AIST President Ryoji Chubachi.

Papadopoulos recounted how the groups had developed close ties under PRAGMA and are well-aligned due to their mutual interest in deep learning, GPU-based computation, big data, and very high speed networks. “With all these things happening every day at UCSD at the Data Sciences Institute, the Pacific Research Platform (PRP) out of Calit2, the GPU expansions on COMET, CHASE-CI which is a distributed deep learning platform that is just being built on top of the PRP, it made sense that this really should be a UCSD-wide agreement. AIST is really a terrific organization and is collaborative by nature in the global sense of the word.”

Satoshi Sekiguchi, vice president of AIST, shared similar sentiments and an appreciation of the extended research family. “UCSD’s strength in application and infrastructure areas aligns with AIST’s primary research interest of IT platforms and AI accelerations. These activities also align very well with the Pacific Research Platform that Larry Smarr and Tom DeFanti have been leading.”

At AIST and at the Department of Information Technology and Human Factors, where Sekiguchi serves as director general, one of the key messages on artificial intelligence research is embedding AI in the real world. “AI should be deployed in the physical space to help solve the real problems in life such as in the manufacturing industries, health care and so on and we wish to contribute to the private sectors to help them realize development of AI technologies,” said Sekiguchi. To this end, AIST has established partnerships with several well-known companies, including NEC, Panasonic, and Toyota Industries.

Sekiguchi also expressed his appreciation for the hard work that made it possible for this MOU to come together in only three months. “The short MOU negotiations happened because of our years of friendly relationships. For example, when the Calit2 building opened, they kindly offered us an office to accommodate the AIST research staff and to collaborate continuously together on the PRAGMA program and beyond that,” said Sekiguchi.

SDSC Director Michael Norman praised AIST as a world leader in developing HPC systems and applications in AI, deep learning for science and society. He referred to the ABCI system that is currently being developed with nearly 5,000 GPUs as “the mother of all GPU clusters.”

“This will be one of the most powerful systems for the areas of AI and deep learning. And so at a very practical level this MOU with UCSD will allow UCSD to have a front row seat to this bold experiment in the future of computing and we will be able to participate in it with a bidirectional visitor exchange program. Through this MOU we hope to broaden UCSD’s interactions with the scientists and engineers at AIST across the organization, building on our long-standing relationship in computing,” said Norman.

Programmatic synergies between the two groups are numerous and include energy and the environment, materials and chemistry, life sciences and biotechnology, information technology and electronics and manufacturing.

Larry Smarr, director of Calit2, emphasized the diverse nature of the joint MOU as well as the complementarity between the university and AIST. In 2002, when Calit2 had the largest information technology research grant from NSF in the country to build the OptIPuter, AIST was a formal international partner to that grant from the beginning. This resulted in a long history of high speed optical networking between the institutions. Smarr stated that one of the goals of the MOU will be to set up a 10-100 gigabit per second link directly into AIST from UCSD to accommodate the next phase of artificial intelligence and deep learning on massive amounts of data.

Smarr is co-PI on CHASE-CI (the Cognitive Hardware and Software Ecosystem Cyberinfrastructure), the NSF-funded GPU cloud being built on top of the Pacific Research Platform. “This framework allows for investigators here with the variety of big data including cognitive science to make use of what is essentially the broadest set of architectures to support machine learning anywhere in the world,” said Smarr.

Jeff Elman, one of the co-directors of the new Data Science Institute along with Rajesh Gupta, spoke of the possibilities afforded by the MOU in relation to the new institute and the shared focus on being a force for good in the world. He also emphasized the cross-disciplinary nature of the collaboration.

“The institute has both a research mission in terms of stimulating and supporting research, innovation, but also an educational mission, in terms of training students, post-docs and also interacting with training opportunities from partners and here’s where I see really exciting opportunities with AIST,” said Elman.

“We are entering and in fact have entered an era where the kinds of data that we now have available surpass, I think, the scope of our imaginations to grapple with both in terms of scope, the range of things we can now quantify and measure and the magnitude, the scale, from the nano to the peta, and now there’s an exa and a zetta,” Elman continued. “These data have tremendous potential on the one hand to help us understand phenomena that are global in nature or micro or nano in nature, not only to understand but also to guide action because I think ultimately science and technology are about understanding the world so that one can change it to intervene when there are harmful things but also to benefit and make improvements. Reading AIST’s mission statement clearly the focus on technology for the social good is something that you value and it is clearly a very important part of the ethos of this campus and of the new institute.”

The final set of remarks were delivered by Jason Haga, senior research scientist in the Information Technology Research Institute of AIST, on behalf of AIST President Dr. Ryoji Chubachi. “[As part of this MOU] we will create joint projects between AIST and UCSD using our new ABCI infrastructure to help establish the largest collaboration platform based on AI. Both institutions will aim to build a cyberinfrastructure that enables mutual access to big data accumulated both in the U.S. and Japan. Furthermore we will expand these activities to other institutions in the U.S. as well as Asia to create a larger global network. I would like to conclude by wishing that our collaboration will lead the way in U.S.-Japan innovation in the future.”

From left to right: Jeff Elman, co-director of UCSD Data Science Institute; Michael Norman, director, SDSC; Larry Smarr, director, Calit2; Satoshi Sekiguchi, vice president of AIST; Jason Haga, senior research scientist in the Information Technology Research Institute of AIST; and Phil Papadopoulos, chief technology officer of SDSC
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