UW News

August 26, 2020

Faculty from Allen School, Evans School tapped for NSF institutes on artificial intelligence

University of Washington faculty are part of two new National Science Foundation institutes devoted to artificial intelligence research.

Ann Bostrom, a professor in the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance, will be part of the AI Institute for Research on Trustworthy AI in Weather, Climate, and Coastal Oceanography, led by the University of Oklahoma. Byron Boots, Sham Kakade, Jamie Morgenstern and Sewoong Oh, faculty in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering, and Zaid Harchaoui, associate professor of statistics, will be part of the AI Institute for Foundations of Machine Learning, led by the University of Texas at Austin.

The NSF on Wednesday announced five institutes in all, based at research universities around the country and part of a collaboration among the U.S. departments of Agriculture, Homeland Security and Transportation. The institutes aim to accelerate research, expand America’s workforce and transform society in the coming decades. Each institute receives $20 million in NSF funding over five years.

The National Science Foundation has announced new AI institutes at universities around the country. University of Washington faculty are affiliated with institutes based at the University of Texas and the University of Oklahoma.National Science Foundation

The NSF AI Institute for Research on Trustworthy AI in Weather, Climate, and Coastal Oceanography assembles researchers in machine learning, atmospheric and ocean science and risk communication to develop user-driven, trustworthy AI that addresses pressing concerns in weather, climate and coastal hazards prediction.

“In collaboration with our colleagues in this new institute, the risk communication research team will examine how AI information influences trust and use of AI over time by decision makers in ecological and water resource management, weather forecasting and emergency management,” Bostrom said. “It’s an exciting opportunity to advance fundamental research on mental models and perceptions of AI in environmental science contexts that have critical consequences for all of us.”

In addition to the UW and the University of Oklahoma, other participating institutions are Colorado State University, the University of New York at Albany, North Carolina State University, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, Del Mar College; the National Center for Atmospheric Research; and private industry partners including Google, IBM, NVIDIA and Disaster Tech.

Amy McGovern, a professor of computer science and meteorology at the University of Oklahoma and lead researcher for this NSF institute, said the long-term goal is to apply AI to a broad array of environmental challenges.

“This institute is a convergent center that will create trustworthy AI for environmental science, revolutionize prediction and understanding of high-impact weather and ocean hazards, and benefit society by protecting lives and property,” McGovern said. “Leading experts from AI, atmospheric and ocean science, risk communication, and education, will work synergistically to develop and test trustworthy AI methods that will transform our understanding and prediction of the environment.”

The NSF Institute for Foundations of Machine Learning will focus on major theoretical challenges in AI, including next-generation algorithms for deep learning, neural architecture optimization, and efficient robust statistics.

At their core, tools from machine learning still rely on models and algorithms that are often ill-equipped to process dynamic, complex datasets. For example, algorithms designed to help machines recognize, categorize and label images can’t keep up with the massive amount of video data people upload to the internet every day.

“This institute tackles the foundational challenges that need to be solved to keep AI on its current trajectory and maximize its impact on science and technology,” said Oh, an associate professor in the Allen School. “We plan to develop a toolkit of advanced algorithms for deep learning, create new methods for coping with the dynamic and noisy nature of training datasets, learn how to exploit structure in real-world data, and target more complex and real-world objectives. These four goals will help solve research challenges in multiple areas, including medical imaging and robot navigation.”

Wichita State University and Microsoft Research are also participating in this institute.

NSF’s history of investment in AI research and workforce development “paved the way for many of the breakthrough commercial technologies permeating and driving society today,” said NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan. “NSF invests more than $500 million in AI research annually. We are supporting five NSF AI Institutes this year, with more to follow, creating hubs for academia, industry, and government to collaborate on profound discoveries and develop new capabilities to advance American competitiveness for decades to come.”

The other NSF institutes announced Tuesday are the AI Institute for Student-AI Teaming, led by the University of Colorado Boulder; the AI Institute for Molecular Discovery, Synthetic Strategy and Manufacturing, led by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign; and the AI Institute for Artificial Intelligence and Fundamental Interactions, led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

For more information on the NSF AI institutes, visit www.nsf.gov.


Adapted from press releases from the National Science Foundation, the University of Oklahoma and the University of Texas at Austin.