Wichita State University has been named a founding member of a newly formed AI Institute for Foundations of Machine Learning (IFML), established by a $20 million grant from the National Science Foundation.
Machine learning is the technology that allows computers to acquire knowledge and make predictions in complex environments. This technology has the potential to transform everything from transportation to entertainment to health care.
The institute is one of five that the NSF announced Wednesday as part of a $100 million, five-year, national investment in the advancement of artificial intelligence research and workforce development.
“In effect, over the next five years, some of the best minds in the country will be tackling some of the grandest challenges that we face, both in terms of new AI techniques as well as breakthroughs in fields of science and engineering and sectors of our economy,” said Michael Kratsios, U.S. Chief Technology Officer. “And along the way, they will nurture the future American workforce in AI research and practice.”
Dr. Jay Golden, president of Wichita State, says this partnership and the research that will come from it are a direct fit with WSU’s goal of focusing on technology’s key role in diversifying the economy and further exemplifies our growing reputation as a national leader for innovation and research.
“This institute is an important early milestone for our newly launched National Institute for Digital Transformation and will serve as an important driver in our priorities to diversify Kansas' economy and provide applied learning opportunities and careers for our students."
Dr. Kaushik Sinha, an associate professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Wichita State, will work on a team that includes researchers from the University of Texas, Austin, where the institute will be based; the University of Washington, and Microsoft Research.
Sinha was invited to join the team in its early stage of formation because of his expertise in theoretical machine learning. This field includes research in next-generation algorithms for deep learning, neural architecture optimization, and efficient robust statistics.
“The primary focus of the AI Institute for Foundations of Machine Learning is to solve some of these fundamental questions over the next five years to ensure continued success of Machine Learning and AI over the next decade,” Sinha said.
“Dr. Sinha has been important in forming our computer science, computing and data science degrees,” said Dr. Gergely Záruba, chair of WSU’s Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department. “This work will enable us to focus even more efforts on providing cutting-edge education and research-exposure to our undergraduate and graduate students.”
Research opportunities for undergrad, grad students
Wichita State’s share of the grant is $700,000 over five years. According to Sinha, the grant will create many opportunities for students to participate in research. Graduate students will be funded from this grant and will work under the supervision of Sinha on the foundational machine learning research problems. Undergraduate students will have the opportunity to participate in theoretical or empirical research projects directed by faculty at their respective universities for a semester or a year.
“Expanding our efforts in computing, data science and artificial intelligence is one of my biggest priorities,” said Dr. Dennis Livesay, dean of the College of Engineering at Wichita State University. “Dr. Sinha’s accomplishment, along with other recent computing-related research grants, highlights that our faculty and programs are garnering significant national recognition.”
Once a year, IFML researchers will meet for a week-long retreat in Kansas where they will deliver public technical talks aimed at graduate students and faculty. Sinha believes this will provide Wichita state faculty and students the opportunity to learn about current technological advances in computer science and AI from world-renowned researchers.
In addition, IFML will create opportunities for high school students to get exposure to AI as a discipline and career path. High schools often face challenges in providing upper-level electives in computer science because of the difficulty in recruiting qualified computer science teachers.
To address this, IFML will develop a month-long mini course in “Introductory AI” that will be taught remotely by IFML-trained math and computer science teachers across Kansas, Texas and Washington. Five high school computer science/math teachers from the Wichita area will be invited annually to the Wichita State campus for a three-day summer workshop where the teachers will be given training in implementing the AI mini-course content. Sinha predicts this will ultimately boost enrollment in computer science undergraduate programs.