The National Science Foundation’s $140 million of fresh funding announced this week for seven new National Artificial Intelligence Research Institutes will put top scientific and research focus on a diverse set of uses for artificial intelligence (AI) technology ranging from education, climate science, and cybersecurity.

The new NSF AI funding – also touted by the White House Thursday in its separate announcement of coming guidance from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to Federal agencies for how put AI tech to work – is “part of a broader effort across the federal government to advance a cohesive approach to AI-related opportunities and risks,” NSF said.

The goals of the new AI Institutes, NSF said, are to “advance foundational AI research that promotes ethical and trustworthy AI systems and technologies, develop novel approaches to cybersecurity, contribute to innovative solutions to climate change, expand our understanding of the brain, and leverage AI capabilities to enhance education and public health.”

That work, the agency explained, “will support the development of a diverse AI workforce in the United States and help address the risks and potential harms posed by AI.” NSF said the new funding will bring to nearly $500 million the funding devoted to the network of AI Institutes by NSF and other government agency and tech-sector funders.

Here’s a rundown on the newest institutes, and their six research themes:

Trustworthy AI

The NSF Institute for Trustworthy AI in Law & Society (TRAILS) will be led by the University of Maryland and will looking at transforming “the practice of AI from one driven primarily by technological innovation to one driven with attention to ethics, human rights, and support for communities whose voices have been marginalized into mainstream AI,” NSF said. Funders include NSF and the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST).

Intelligent Agents for Next-Generation Cybersecurity

The AI Institute for Agent-based Cyber Threat Intelligence and Operation (ACTION) will be led by the University of California, Santa Barbara, and will aim to “develop novel approaches that leverage AI to anticipate and take corrective actions against cyberthreats that target the security and privacy of computer networks and their users,” NSF said. Funders include NSF, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and IBM.

Climate Smart Agriculture and Forestry

The AI Institute for Climate-Land Interactions, Mitigation, Adaptation, Tradeoffs and Economy (AI-CLIMATE) led by the University of Minnesota Twin Cities will aim to “advance foundational AI by incorporating knowledge from agriculture and forestry sciences and leveraging these unique, new AI methods to curb climate effects while lifting rural economies,” NSF said. Funders include the Agriculture Department.

Neural and Cognitive Foundations of Artificial Intelligence

The AI Institute for Artificial and Natural Intelligence (ARNI) led by Columbia University will focus on “connecting the major progress made in AI systems to the revolution in our understanding of the brain,” NSF said. Funders include NSF and the Defense Department (DoD).

AI for Decision Making

The AI-Institute for Societal Decision Making (AI-SDM) led by Carnegie Mellon University will aim to “create human-centric AI for decision making to bolster effective response in uncertain, dynamic, and resource-constrained scenarios like disaster management and public health,” NSF said.

AI-Augmented Learning to Expand Education Opportunities and Improve Outcomes

The AI Institute for Inclusive Intelligent Technologies for Education (INVITE) led by the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, will aim to “fundamentally reframe how educational technologies interact with learners by developing AI tools and approaches to support three crucial noncognitive skills known to underlie effective learning: persistence, academic resilience, and collaboration,” NSF said.

And the AI Institute for Exceptional Education (AI4ExceptionalEd) led by the University at Buffalo will “work toward universal speech and language screening for children,” NSF said.

“The National AI Research Institutes are a critical component of our Nation’s AI innovation, infrastructure, technology, education, and partnerships ecosystem,” commented NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan. “These institutes are driving discoveries that will ensure our country is at the forefront of the global AI revolution.”

“These strategic federal investments will advance American AI infrastructure and innovation, so that AI can help tackle some of the biggest challenges we face, from climate change to health. Importantly, the growing network of National AI Research Institutes will promote responsible innovation that safeguards people’s safety and rights,” added White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director Arati Prabhakar.

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John Curran
John Curran
John Curran is MeriTalk SLG's Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.