Schumer, UB tout Buffalo’s AI opportunity as nation’s top scientist visits – Buffalo News

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A robotic dog named “Spark” may have drawn the most camera flashes, but it was University at Buffalo’s research capabilities that dominated the spotlight Tuesday, as one of the nation’s highest-ranking scientists came to Buffalo with Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer to learn about the school’s innovations and advances in artificial intelligence and machine-learning.



U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer stops to pet ‘Spark’ doing a demonstration during an event Tuesday to mark the opening of the National AI Institute for Exceptional Education at the University of Buffalo with Dr. Sethuraman Panchanathan, director of the U.S. National Science Foundation, right.




That visit, in turn, could pave the way for more federal grants and investments coming to Buffalo and Western New York, enabling the region to take a leadership role in future AI research while keeping the United States ahead of foreign rivals like China.

“We want to stay No. 1 in science and technology and chip manufacturing, and not let the Chinese government get ahead of us,” Schumer told about 50 people gathered for the ribbon-cutting of UB’s new National AI Institute for Exceptional Education, funded with a $20 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

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“AI is the future,” Schumer said. “We know we’re just at the beginning. It’s going to be world-altering, and Buffalo and upstate New York should be the ones guiding the innovation of AI.”

Sethuraman Panchanathan, director of the National Science Foundation, praised UB’s work in developing technology to identify and help children with speech disabilities, who face a severe national shortage of speech therapists.

“By advancing AI techniques, human-AI interactions and learning science, this institute will develop entirely new ways to identify and assist millions of children – and their teachers – across the United States in need of speech and language services,” he said. “This effort will empower generations of young people with a high-quality education, opening a lifetime of bigger and better opportunities than ever available to them before.”

The new AI institute at UB is one of only two in the state and 25 nationwide, all supported by the NSF. But UB’s is the only one focused on speech therapy, using AI to better understand children’s speech and language development, screen children for problems and provide individualized assistance. More than 3.2 million U.S. children are estimated to need help learning to speak, but there are only 60,000 speech therapists nationwide, Panchanathan noted.



Dr. Sethuraman Panchanathan, director of the National Science Foundation, speaks to a reporter following an event to mark the opening of the National AI Institute for Exceptional Education at the University of Buffalo, Tuesday, April 2, 2024.




“This is a really wonderful and remarkable project,” Panchanathan said.

He added, “In any university, you want talent, ideas, the spirit of discovery, as well as the spirit of translating those discoveries into outcomes. What I find in Buffalo is a unique combination of all that together.”

The visit by Panchanathan – or “Dr. Panch,” as he was called – came as both the federal and state governments are investing hundreds of millions of dollars in AI research and development, while also seeking to address potential risks of abuse.

Schumer, as Senate leader, wants to use his influence and perch to promote Buffalo and upstate New York as a hub for innovation, and a destination for those funds.



U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer speaks during an event to mark the opening of the National AI Institute for Exceptional Education at the University of Buffalo, Tuesday, April 2, 2024. 




“Buffalo is primed to power our nation and the world on AI innovation,” Schumer said. “The region truly has the capability unmatched by anybody.”

Last year, President Biden directed the NSF to establish a National AI Research Resource as a pilot project to encourage responsible and “trustworthy” AI innovation in the young but fast-growing field.

The pilot, launched by NSF on Jan. 24, is designed to create a national infrastructure within two years to connect AI researchers with resources and to collaborate on innovation and policy among 10 federal agencies and 25 private partners in government, industry, education and research.

The 35 partners currently include NASA, the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the federal agencies for agriculture, defense, energy and veterans affairs, as well as IBM Corp., Intel Corp., Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, Google, Meta, Microsoft Corp., OpenAI, EleutherAI and Amazon Web Services.

It’s designed to allow students, researchers and both small and large companies to use resources for AI that they might otherwise not have access to, ensuring that “AI innovations are not limited to places where you have such infrastructure available,” Panchanathan explained.

“If you leave it to that, then you can guess that the innovations will only come out of the few places that have the ability to launch that level of infrastructure support,” he said. “This is a national investment so you can democratize the access.”

The NSF, which has $800 million invested in AI, will then seek proposals from universities and other entities around the country for further research and development using the resources of the NAIRR.

Schumer wants to highlight why UB should be selected as part of the effort, because of its advancements in research and manufacturing that can boost the economy and create high-paying jobs.

“We need AI’s future built in places like Buffalo and not Beijing,” he said. “That’s something that all Americans, whatever your politics, can all get behind.”

He noted that the U.S. government “has to invest billions of dollars” in the NSF and other agencies to maintain America’s leadership role, giving UB an opportunity to get a piece of the action and the money.

“With today’s visit by the NSF director, I want to open more doors for our universities like UB to access federal investment from the NSF and tap into computer resources and training offered from AI industry leaders that are part of the NAIRR project,” Schumer said. “It’s only the beginning of what this region can accomplish. It’s a win-win-win. Buffalo’s ready to lead the race on AI.”

The federal government has designated the Buffalo-Rochester-Syracuse region as a “tech hub” for semiconductor manufacturing, uniting the three cities in a joint bid to compete for at least $75 million. And Micron Technology is investing up to $100 billion to build the nation’s biggest chip-making facility near Syracuse, where it will produce the memory chips needed for AI.

Most recently, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced the state’s new Empire AI Consortium of leading research universities across the state, with UB as its hub. The initiative includes $400 million in public and private funding for an advanced computing center to be shared by the State University of New York, City University of New York, Columbia University, Cornell University, New York University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the Simons Foundation.



Shan Jia, a UB post-doctoral student and assistant director of the Media Forensic Lab, demonstrates the “Deep Fake-O-Meter” software developed to detect the use of deepfake technology during an event to mark the opening of the National AI Institute for Exceptional Education at the University of Buffalo, Tuesday, April 2, 2024.




“We need to turn AI into a job-creator, not a job-destroyer,” Schumer said. “We can do that if we invest and do smart things like we’re doing here today.”

At the same time, he cautioned about the risks, and advocated for the need for new “guardrails” that will guide researchers and companies, and protect against abuse of AI for “deep fakes” and election interference.

“AI brings with it the capacity for positive change. But it could have bad consequences,” Schumer said. “We have to make sure that we have the right atmosphere, scientifically and in many other ways, to make sure it goes forward.”

Reach Jonathan D. Epstein at (716) 849-4478 or [email protected].

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