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Education, Tech Leaders Express Support for Empire AI

A press conference on Friday convened representatives from SUNY, CUNY and regional technology companies who praised the state's planned $275 million AI hub for its potential to move the technology along.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (TNS)
(TNS) — Governor Kathleen C. Hochul is hoping to pass a plan to invest $275 million in state funds into an artificial intelligence research and development program, centered in the SUNY system and collaborating across some of New York's leading universities.

On Friday, in a small press conference in a relatively quiet state Capitol, education leaders including SUNY Chancellor John B. King, Jr., CUNY Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez, technology advocates and Capital Region and downstate state representatives explained that they view the Empire AI project as an important step to make AI more equitable, fair and safe, while also ensuring New York is at the forefront of AI development.

Under the plan included in Hochul's executive budget, and modified on Wednesday under the 30-day amendment rule that allows the Governor to tweak their budget proposal within a month of introducing it, $275 million in state funding would couple with $125 million in private funding to install a high-capacity supercomputer capable of running artificial intelligence at the University at Buffalo campus, providing access to use it to the rest of the SUNY system and a handful of private groups, including Cornell, Columbia, NYU and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, as well as nonprofits like Tech:NYC and other investors.

The advocates for the program say it will put the power of New York's diverse academic sector into the AI space, with New York students, researchers and academics providing key intel on how AI works, what its failings are and a pathway to study how best to implement AI.

"Who better to be able to address questions of ethics, of any kind of misconduct with AI, than folks in academia, the objective researchers in that field," said Matos Rodríguez. "This is an indispensable part of how we're going to have an ecosystem that is going to benefit all of us, to have the best of guardrails as we grow."

Assemblyman Alex Bores, D-Manhattan, who holds a degree in computer science, said this program follows a similar path to programs put together in other states, including Massachusetts, which established a cloud computing service for its universities. The difference is that the Empire AI focuses on artificial intelligence, rather than more basic computing services.

"New York is focusing on the specific kind of hardware that enables AI research," Bores said. "GPU's are what they're called, and having that will enable universities to do much more research, much more quickly and at a lower cost."

Bores said the research could include the testing of algorithms, in-depth studies on how machine learning and artificial intelligence programs operate, and ensuring that programs follow the instructions laid out for them by humans.

He added that it could easily make AI safer and more palatable to the public — Friday's speakers including Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy, D-Albany, spoke to the complex role AI development is already playing in society, with many expressing concerns over misinformation and the role AI is already playing in the generation and spread of information on the Internet.

Bores said he believes that, if the universities of New York develop important technology for the AI sector, and those developments prove to be profitable and positive developments, the private companies that are developing the leading AI products today will take those developments on.

Fahy said that she sees this as just the start of the Empire AI project, and said the consortium of participating institutions should, and must, grow in the future.

"It must grow," she said.

"This is monumental, but it's going to take tremendous work," she said. "I see that list, I shared a little bit of the concern, because that list in my view is not intended to be a finite list of colleges and universities, we want to grow that list because we have a Herculean task ahead of us to get out in front and to become, again, the center of AI research."

And some more schools appear to be considering jumping on board now as well. Jake Newman, director of media relations for Clarkson University in Potsdam, said the university is "in discussions about future opportunities with Empire AI Initiative and will continue to explore avenues for collaboration with academic and industry partners in the AI space."

Newman said Clarkson already has done work with AI, building the Center for Identification Technology Research, which is a National Science Foundation cooperative research center focused on developing what they call "identity science" and biometric recognition.

The Empire AI initiative isn't formalized yet — the state legislature has to approve the plan through the state budgeting process and pass it into law. The state budget is typically due by April 1, although it isn't always finished by that deadline.

©2024 Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, N.Y.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.