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New York Lawmakers Pledge Support for AI Consortium

With budget negotiations underway, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul's proposal to create an Empire AI consortium to lead responsible development of artificial intelligence is likely to get the $275 million it needs.

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(TNS) — With New York State budget negotiations underway, there's no sign that Gov. Kathy Hochul's proposal to create an Empire AI consortium to lead responsible development of artificial intelligence will fail to get the $275 million it needs to become reality this year.

But just in case, its proposed hub, the University at Buffalo, recently invited state officials and members of Western New York's Albany delegation to campus to pledge support for Empire AI and UB as its home base.

UB Provost Scott Weber and Vice President for Research and Economic Development Venu Govindaraju welcomed New York Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes and four other state legislators to UB last week for what felt like a pep rally for UB's role in AI research and the future of Empire AI.

Peoples-Stokes told a crowd of UB faculty, including many already leading AI research, that she sees Hochul's vision as an idea everyone can support.

The State Assembly included $250 million for the consortium in its budget plan, and Hochul has commitments for at least $125 million in private funding from the Simons Foundation, Bloomberg LP co-founder Tom Secunda and other tech investors.

Empire AI founding members would be SUNY, CUNY, Columbia University, Cornell University, New York University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the Simons Foundation. UB would house a new advanced AI supercomputing center where public research institutions can share and collaborate on best practices for safe and responsible AI.

"This consortium would be great not just for UB, but for all of New York State's higher education institutions," Peoples-Stokes said. "And I can't see any way possible that any of our elected representatives, whether it's the Western New York delegation or anyone else in the state, would deny this opportunity for Empire AI to happen right here at UB and benefit all of higher ed."

State Sen. Sean Ryan, who chairs the senate Committee on Commerce, Economic Development and Small Business, said he has been telling his colleagues about UB's history of AI, including Govindaraju's pioneering work on machine learning for handwriting recognition that streamlined the U.S. Postal Service's mail processing in the 1990s.

"When we talk about Empire AI, the first question you hear is, 'Is this money going to Buffalo because the governor is from Buffalo?' " Ryan said. "Well, it probably helps a little bit, but I gotta tell you what else: the University at Buffalo has been doing AI before anyone even called it AI. And Venu here is the OG of AI. That is honestly why they're going to host this institute at the University at Buffalo, for your 20 years of leadership in this field."

Ryan said it's New York's job to explore and invest in industries that are going to grow, including those, like AI, that "you don't necessarily want the private sector to do all on their own."

"We can make this research applicable to grow our economy, but also to make UB a destination for researchers with ambition and good ideas," Ryan added. "Where do I go to apply my brain power in North America? If you're in this field, we want the answer to be clear: You come to UB because that's where it's all getting done."

State Sen. Pat Burke and Assembly Members Karen McMahon and Jon Rivera also promised to promote the project, as did former New York City Council Member Marjorie Velázquez, now vice president of policy for the Tech: NYC network of tech leaders and Mo Sumbundu, assistant director of Empire State Development and Hochul's Upstate New York liaison.

Schumer, Gillibrand announce $2 million for WNY higher ed, youth violence measures

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer and U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand have secured $2.1 million for projects across Western New York in the just-passed bipartisan funding package for fiscal year 2024.

Niagara University will get $1 million for an integrated STEM Center, a new 20,000-square-foot academic building to house STEM programs on its Lewiston campus. The investment builds on the $1.4 million that Schumer and Gillibrand helped secure for the university to jump-start its Academic Innovation Hub in downtown Niagara Falls last year, and an additional $1.3 million federal economic development grant they delivered for the project.

The federal funding also will support local projects to prevent youth violence prevention, provide resources to first responders and bolster academic programs at St. Bonaventure University, the legislators said.

St. Bonaventure will get $750,000 for upgrades to the media capabilities at its Jandoli School of Communications, including TV and radio equipment, podcast studios and supporting technology.

The Community Action Organization of WNY will get $310,000 for its Buffalo Youth Violence Prevention Demonstration Project, which aims to offer wraparound services with community partner organizations to provide alternatives to the traditional criminal justice path for at-risk youth.

The Wyoming County Emergency Operations Center will also receive $58,000 for the Wyoming County Emergency Operations Center for equipment needs.

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