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NCSA Joins Newly Launched NAIRR Pilot

A close up of a man's hands. He's holding a phone and interacting with it. "AI" is overlaid with some tech design around it. Meant to convey the concept of AI being used in an everyday setting.

It’s no secret that Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been dominating news cycles lately. AI research has made impressive advancements in the last year that have caught the world’s attention. The innovations involving these complex machine learning algorithms have become part of the watercooler conversations of the masses, in no small part due to applications like ChatGPT – an advancement that’s easy to understand at a surface level by most people. The public is very intrigued by the concept of speaking to a machine and having it answer like a human.

But the general populace also has a great deal of unease about some of these advancements, and there’s a desire for transparency and care in this research. Recognizing this challenge, in the National AI Initiative Act of 2020, Congress directed the National Science Foundation (NSF), in consultation with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), to establish a task force to create a roadmap for a National AI Research Resource (NAIRR) – a shared research infrastructure that would provide AI researchers and students with significantly expanded access to computational resources, high-quality data, educational tools, and user support. 

The task force was made up of a number of agencies led by NSF, and according to a White House press release, they produced a “roadmap for standing up a national research infrastructure that would broaden access to the resources essential to artificial intelligence (AI) research and development.” The NAIRR pilot announced by NSF will begin implementation of the recommendations from the task force’s final report. The pilot is “a first step towards realizing the vision for a shared research infrastructure that will strengthen and democratize access to critical resources necessary to power responsible AI discovery and innovation,” according to the NSF’s press release.

Portrait of John Towns

NSF is partnering with a number of federal and private agencies to bring their vision to fruition. “The breadth of partners that have come together for this pilot underscores the urgency of developing a National AI Research Resource for the future of AI in America,” said NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan. ”By investing in AI research through the NAIRR pilot, the United States unleashes discovery and impact and bolsters its global competitiveness. To continue leading in AI research and development, we must create opportunities across the country to advance AI innovation and strengthen educational opportunities, empowering the nation to shape international standards and igniting economic growth. NSF is proud to lead this effort with our current and future partners.”

NCSA has been chosen as one of these partners, as well as several other resource providers from NSF’s ACCESS program. The Center is well-positioned to assist in this collaborative effort as a leader in AI research and development. Two of NCSA’s resources will be allocated to this pilot, Delta, and DeltaAI, once it’s deployed and accepted by NSF. Delta, NCSA’s GPU-based supercomputer, is a leading resource to support AI development and applied AI. It’s also the largest such resource within the ACCESS portfolio. When DeltaAI comes online later this year, it will only add to Delta’s impressive power.

NCSA is excited to be a part of NAIRR in the early stages of this program. This partnership will build on the Center’s award-winning work with AI research and allow NCSA to be a part of the formation of the eventual full program, which promises to democratize AI research in ways needed to create a safe and robust technology that will benefit everyone.

An image of Delta, NCSA's GPU based supercomputer. Delta is spelled out on the supercomputer in colorful geometric shapes reminiscent of a sunset over the water.
NCSA’s GPU-based supercomputer, Delta, will be just one of the resources utilized in this new pilot.

Chris Keeley, assistant director of operations for Research Consulting at NCSA, will be part of the NCSA team working on NAIRR. “I only very recently became involved with the project,” he said, “but excitement for the vision of NAIRR and this pilot effort are already evident. I wholeheartedly support the idea of democratizing access to research resources, so I’m grateful for the opportunity to be involved and looking forward to seeing what awesome science this effort supports.”

“This is a very exciting time for advancing AI in the US,” said John Towns, NCSA’s deputy director. “The advent of the NAIRR pilot will lead us toward a planned substantial investment in AI by the U.S. federal government when we reach the full NAIRR program in a couple of years. The NAIRR pilot will help refine what the full NAIRR program should look like and create opportunities for early advancements through access to NAIRR pilot resources.”

This is an important step in the advancement of AI. Bringing industry and non-profits together toward a common goal should help foster a conscientious approach to researching all the possibilities of AI. “Today’s announcement makes progress on President Biden’s goal to advance responsible AI so that everyone in America can benefit from this powerful technology. The National AI Research Resource pilot will give researchers access to critical data and compute, catalyzing action to achieve America’s great aspirations,” said Arati Prabhakar, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology.

For more information, see NSF’s press release and the NAIRR pilot website.

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