Artificial IntelligencePublic Policy

R&D for Small Research Institutes: Diving Headfirst into an AI-Driven World

By Kayla Henneberry

Opportunities to pursue cutting-edge artificial intelligence (AI) research and apply AI to new domains and challenges are inaccessible to much of America’s talent. Much of today’s AI research relies on access to large volumes of data and advanced computational power, which are often unavailable to researchers beyond those at well-resourced technology companies and large, well-endowed universities. This access divide limits the ability of small companies, small universities and community colleges, and less traditional R&D institutions to leverage AI to tackle society’s big challenges. It also constrains the diversity of researchers and the breadth of ideas incorporated into AI innovations, contributing to embedded biases and other systemic inequalities found in AI systems today.

To address the inequity, Congress, as part of the 2020 National AI Initiative Act, directed the National Science Foundation (NSF) to create a roadmap for a National AI Research Resource (NAIRR) — a shared research, cloud infrastructure that would provide AI researchers and students with significantly expanded access to computational resources, high-quality data, educational tools, and user support. The roadmap established a “national cyberinfrastructure aimed at overcoming the access divide, reaping the benefits of greater brainpower and more diverse perspectives and experiences applied to developing the future of AI technology and its role in our society.”

Since the release of the roadmap in January 2023, Congress has been slow to move on this issue. IEEE-USA is optimistic that recent hearings and an executive order requiring a NAIRR pilot program will incite change and generate support.

This past October, the Biden administration issued an Executive Order to ensure creation of the NAIRR. Within 90 days of the order, the NSF was directed to create a pilot program that, “shall pursue the infrastructure, governance mechanisms, and user interfaces to pilot an initial integration of distributed computational, data, model, and training resources to be made available to the research community in support of AI-related research and development.”

In January 2024, NSF launched the NAIRR pilot to expand access to critical AI research resources by connecting U.S. researchers and students to computational, data, software, modeling, and training resources they need to engage in AI research. The pilot is designed to give way to the eventual necessary national infrastructure, so that U.S. researchers, regardless of their college or institution’s size or status, have access to equal resources. Given the gaps of knowledge between large and small research institutions, NAIRR hopes to enable research that eliminates the inequities identified in the Executive Order.

To implement the pilot, NSF partnered with numerous government and private institutions. Interested parties may apply from now until 1 March 2024, “to request access to a set of advanced computing resources for projects.”

Support for the NAIRR exists on both sides of the aisle. The bipartisan CREATE AI Act, introduced in mid 2023, authorizes the construction of the NAIRR. When introducing the act, sponsor, Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) said, “my bipartisan CREATE AI Act provides researchers from universities, nonprofits, and government with the powerful tools necessary to develop cutting-edge AI systems that are safe, ethical, transparent, and inclusive.” Co-sponsor Rep. Mike McCaul (R-Texas) said, “To maintain United States leadership over our adversaries in technology, including AI, we must unleash the full potential of American innovation. The legislation will open up resources to allow more great American minds to work together to develop smart, safe and secure AI.”

During a 6 February hearing of the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Technology, which highlighted the NAIRR, Rep. Mike Collins (R-Ga.-11) said, “The U.S. is […] the global leader in newly funded AI companies. The federal government spent nearly $3 billion in 2022 on AI research and development. The federal government is the leading source of support for basic research and […] areas critical to national security.”

Across the aisle, Rep. Haley Stevens (D-Mich.-11) noted that, “[…] In my home state of Michigan, advances in artificial intelligence by automakers are accelerating the development of autonomous vehicle technology […] that has some real significant opportunity to minimize traffic and certainly increase safety.”

The hearing stressed the importance of smaller research institutions to further develop and innovate AI technologies in the United States. Chaouki Abdallah, former President of the University of New Mexico, stated, “What is lacking is the access of resources, and I think the best way to do that is to team up, be part of the — of the NAIRR, for example, or […] other such initiatives.”

IEEE-USA has been advocating for the democratization of research and development for years. By responding to RFIs (requests for information) and supporting this legislation, the IEEE-USA believes that members will find the CREATE AI Act beneficial as we move forward into a more AI-driven world.


Kayla Henneberry

Kayla Henneberry is policy associate for IEEE-USA government relations.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button