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NSF launches AI research hub

Jan 24, 2024
Illustration of a large dictionary with AI embossed on the front

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

The National Science Foundation on Wednesday launched the National AI Research Resource pilot to encourage greater participation in the technology's development.

What's happening: The pilot program will last two years and provide computing power, data, software and training to researchers who will start by focusing on how to build trustworthy AI systems.

  • Some resources, such as open data sets and models, will be automatically available on the NAIRR website.
  • Others, such as access to computational systems, will require an application.
  • NSF projects the pilot will be able to support 25-50 research projects to start.

Why it matters: AI research and development is highly concentrated and inaccessible.

  • NAIRR is meant to increase competition and ensure AI is being developed responsibly.
  • The Biden administration's AI executive order directed NSF to launch the NAIRR pilot, in part to support smaller businesses commercializing AI.

What they're saying: "We need resources to advance AI that are open to all so that every community across our nation may reap the benefits of AI," NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan said in a call with reporters.

  • "Therefore, a national AI research resource, simply put, has the potential to change the trajectory of our country's approach to AI."

Reality check: Establishing a fully functional NAIRR is yet another task piled onto an agency that is already grappling with funding constraints, and there's little appetite in Congress to spend more money.

  • A bipartisan, bicameral group of lawmakers last year introduced the CREATE AI Act to authorize NAIRR.

Big Tech players are contributing resources to the pilot, including Amazon Web Services, Microsoft, IBM and Meta.

  • Nvidia, Anthropic, OpenAI and AI2, the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence and other non-governmental entities are also contributing.
  • 11 government agencies from DARPA to NIST to DOE are also contributing computational and data resources.

Of note: An external ethics advisory committee will be established to help vet the data set resources NAIRR is offering.

What's next: A broader set of resource opportunities expanding into specific areas such as environment, infrastructure and health care is expected in the spring.

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