What’s on tap for the National AI Research Resource Task Force’s first meeting

The group consists of 12 leaders in government, higher education, and private organizations
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Francis Scialabba

· 3 min read

About an hour from now, in Alexandria, Virginia, the National AI Research Resource Task Force will come together for its inaugural meeting.

Announced last month as a joint effort between the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the National Science Foundation (NSF), the task force is made up of 12 leaders in government, higher education, and private organizations.

  • Members include Fei-Fei Li, a deep learning expert at Stanford University; Oren Etzioni, CEO of the Allen Institute for AI; Lynne Parker, the US’s Deputy Chief Technology Officer; and Andrew Moore, head of Google Cloud AI.

What’s on tap: The task force was born out of Congress’s National AI Initiative Act of 2020. Its job description? Advise the government on AI policy and research issues—and write a “blueprint” for a shared AI research resource “providing AI researchers and students across all scientific disciplines with access to computational resources, high quality data, educational tools, and user support.”

We spoke with the NSF's Erwin Gianchandani, co-chair of the task force, about the group’s to-do list, outlook, and big plans.

The briefing, in brief

On the task force’s priorities: Two biggies, he says: 1) “Take stock of where we are today” in AI innovation and 2) “Figure out how can we stitch together...a whole set of existing resources” that serve as a hub for AI researchers in academia, government, and private industry.

  • But the task force will focus on planning, not direct action, he notes: “We're charged to...develop a roadmap that characterizes, ‘How might we potentially get to a national AI research resource...then also, how might we sustain it?’”

Impending deadlines: Next May, the task force is slated to submit an interim report to Congress and the president outlining initial thinking about access to data and computational assets. And in November 2022, the group will turn in its final report.

One key goal: The priority is to create a resource that “democratizes access” to AI research tools, Gianchandani said. Right now, mainly tech heavyweights like Amazon, Google, and Microsoft, have access to the advanced computational resources, large data sets, and more needed for certain research.

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  • “You want to ensure that you have a broad set of perspectives that serve to inform, influence, and shape the development of...those [AI] techniques in order to ensure that you get a much, much better system or tool, product, or capability at the end.”

Looking ahead

Before the task force’s first meeting, Gianchandani declined to provide concrete plans for auditing resources for those using the data sets, or risk-measurement parameters for new AI techniques. But the task force has striven to identify people with experience in bias and fairness, he says, and they intend to make meetings accessible and seek input from the public.

He added that implementing some sort of usage safeguards for the proposed resource are “things that are very much in scope, and we would expect the task force to have conversations about this.”

+ While we’re here: There’s a separate call for an AI advisory committee to help guide the federal government on AI research and education activities, Gianchandani says, which the National Institute of Standards and Technology plans to kick off.

  • “It is about AI, but it’s more broad,” he said. “It’s also about trying to think through ethics and governance of computing research in the context of new and emerging technology areas—and how should we be thinking about that type of research as we're moving forward?
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