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University at Buffalo Spotlights AI Research for Public Good

The university kicked off a series of panel discussions this week about research into how AI tools could be used to solve problems, for example to "read" results of MRIs or detect warning signs of an aneurysm.

University at Buffalo
(TNS) — University at Buffalo biomedical and neurosurgery professor Ciprian "Chip" Ionita is researching ways to use artificial intelligence to predict outcomes of surgery based on data gathered before, during and after a procedure to give doctors an informed prognosis for each patient they treat.

Christine Wang, a professor in UB's graduate school of education, is helping devise AI methods for spotting speech and language problems in young children and giving teachers better tools for addressing them early on.

These are just two of many ways that UB is seeking to "Harness AI for the Public Good" — the title of a series of panel discussions on AI that UB kicked off Wednesday.

SUNY Chancellor John King visited UB to experience and spotlight the groundbreaking AI research taking place at the SUNY flagship school and celebrate UB's progress toward becoming a top public research university.

King said he is excited to see how UB will use its wealth of AI resources for the good of society.

"The world is likely to change as much in the next hundred years as it has changed in the last thousand years," King said. "We have a chance to create new innovations that will better the life of the planet and its inhabitants."

To help answer that call, UB welcomed this year 150 new faculty members across many disciplines to increase its focus on research, and more than 200 UB faculty members are currently working on AI-related research, said Venu Govindaraju, professor of computer science and engineering and UB's chief research officer.

Govindaraju helped devise one of the most dramatic new uses of machine learning in the 1990s, when his UB team developed the first handwritten address interpretation system used by the U.S. postal service. The learning-based system saves USPS hundreds of millions of dollars by automatically processing and barcoding more than 25 billion letters a year.

In 2022, UB also won "the crown jewel of NSF grants," $20 million from the National Science Foundation to create a national AI Institute for Exceptional Education at UB, one of only 25 institutions to receive such an honor in the past four years, Govindaraju said.

Gov. Kathy Hochul also approved $102 million in capital projects funding last year for a new engineering hub at UB, and $100 million this year for a new research facility with state-of-the-art labs and technology, he said.

King said this year's SUNY budget represented the largest increase in state spending for SUNY in 20 years, and includes a $1.5 billion endowment to accelerate research at SUNY schools.

UB President Satish Tripathi said UB expended in total more than $200 million in research funding for the first time last year, and this year that funding is up another 16 percent, to $232 million.

UB's pursuit of additional prestigious federal research grants is part of its goal to reach $1 billion in research funding by 2030, a challenge issued by Hochul to both UB and New York's other SUNY flagship, Stony Brook University, in early 2022.

As part of its mission to stay at the forefront of AI, UB invited King to kick off the first of a two-year series of panel discussions where UB's top AI researcher will share perspectives and discuss ways to ensure AI tools be used to solve problems.

The first discussion held Wednesday featured Ionita; Wang; Ifeoma Nwogu, UB computer science and engineering professor; and David Castillo, professor of romance languages and literatures in UB's College of Arts and Sciences.

The panel touched on the use of AI in medicine to help doctors "read" results of tests like MRI or sonograms to diagnose health conditions. Ionita said the future will include wearable devices that can detect warning signs of serious problems like aneurysm or heart valve issues in time to save lives.

In education, AI can be used to give teachers and specialists personalized tools for assessing and teaching individual students, "freeing up high-quality teacher time for interacting with kids," Wang said.

But in order to win the acceptance of doctors, teachers and the public, transparency must come with AI tools so it is clear that the data being used to reach conclusions can be trusted, the researchers said.

AI will never be able to substitute for the "soft skills" that generate the best problem-solving methods — "a collaborative mindset, good listening and communications skills and patience to develop an understanding of others' perspectives," Wang said.

UB and other education schools should also pave the way for "AI literacy" to be incorporated in K-12 classrooms as well as colleges and universities to prepare today's students for its growing prevalence in every field imaginable, Wang said.

©2023 The Buffalo News (Buffalo, N.Y.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.