NSF Announces New AI Program; Plans $120M in Funding Next Year

By Staff report

October 8, 2019

As the saying goes, when you’re hot, you’re hot. Right now, AI is scalding. Today the National Science Foundation announced a new AI initiative – The National Artificial Intelligence Research Institutes program – with plans to invest about “$120 million in grants next year to fund planning grants and up to six research institutes in order to advance AI research and create national nexus points for universities, federal agencies, industries and nonprofits.”

It’s clear the Administration sees AI as a transformative opportunity. Just last week DOE held an AI Summit intended to drive AI collaboration and technology transfer from DOE to industry. In September, the supplement to the US FY2020 budget called for $1 billion in non-defense spending on AI. Last February, President Donald Trump’s Executive Order on AI created a framework for pursuing AI and called on federal agencies to start prioritizing projects and building budgets.

The NSF initiative may be an early fruit of those efforts.

“Advances in AI are progressing rapidly and demonstrating the potential to transform our lives,” said NSF Director France Córdova in the official announcement. “This landmark investment will further AI research and workforce development, allowing us to accelerate the development of transformational technologies and catalyze markets of the future.”

The new program is led by NSF in partnership with the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Science & Technology Directorate, U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Both planning and institute tracks are included in the project. The planning track will support planning grants for up to two years and $500,000 to enable teams to develop collaborative plans and capacity for full institute operations. The institute track will support cooperative agreements of $16 million to $20 million for four to five years (up to $4 million per year) for the creation of AI Research Institutes in an initial set of high-priority areas:

  • Trustworthy AI
  • Foundations of Machine Learning
  • AI-Driven Innovation in Agriculture and the Food System
  • AI-Augmented Learning
  • AI for Accelerating Molecular Synthesis and Manufacturing
  • AI for Discovery in Physics

NSF says the AI Research Institutes program will support the advancement of multidisciplinary, multi-stakeholder research on larger-scale, longer-time-horizon challenges in AI research than are supported in typical research grants.

“These institutes will accelerate the transition of AI innovations into many economic sectors while also nurturing and growing the next generation of AI researchers and practitioners,” said NSF Acting Assistant Director for Computer and Information Science and Engineering Erwin Gianchandani. “This long-term, substantive and highly visible investment in AI research and workforce development will realize the potential of AI and enable the U.S. to maintain global leadership.”

Earlier this year, NSF joined other federal agency partners in announcing the release of the 2019 Update to the National Artificial Intelligence (AI) Research and Development (R&D) Strategic Plan. Grant proposals for the National AI Research Institutes program are due to NSF no later than January 28, 2020, for Institute proposals and January 30, 2020, for Planning Grant proposals.

Link to press release: https://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=299329&org=NSF&from=news

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