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College of Engineering and Computing

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UofSC forms a university-wide institute of Artificial Intelligence

August 15, 2019

The University of South Carolina is launching a new artificial intelligence (AI) institute that will leverage the comprehensive nature of the university to advance state-of-the-art AI applications in fields like health care, education, social sciences, communications, advanced manufacturing, autonomous transportation, and personalized security and comfort, while also helping shape and inform the ethics and policies surrounding these emergent solutions.

Once considered the stuff of science fiction, AI has rapidly made inroads into a wide range of industries and consumer products. Experts predict this is just the beginning of a revolution that will integrate AI into every industry, forever changing the way we work, receive information and go about our daily lives.

“We know that AI robots are never going to totally replace humans in the workforce because there are complex operations that humans are uniquely suited for. At the same time, we could see very rapid disruption in many areas and we need to examine how to optimally incorporate AI into society to manage these transitions from old to new.”

Hossein Haj-Hariri

Leading South Carolina’s effort is Amit Sheth, a pioneering AI researcher and entrepreneur who recently joined UofSC’s College of Engineering and Computing from Wright State University in Ohio. Sheth’s groundbreaking work on federated databases beginning in the 1980s helped pave the way for modern approaches to information integration. A fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences and the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence, his work has been cited in leading scientific journals over 42,000 times. Until recently he served as the LexisNexis Ohio Eminent Scholar and the executive director of the Ohio Center for Excellence in Knowledge-Enabled Computing.

Sheth says UofSC offers many advantages to researchers seeking to expand AI applications.

“The university’s decision to start a university-wide institute that would be one-of-a-kind in the Southeast, the tremendous interest across all the colleges on the campus in using AI, the nearby presence of natural industry partners, and potential to develop a world-class presence in AI implementation and applications made this a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for all involved in this initiative,” Sheth said.

Hossein Haj-Hariri, dean of the College of Engineering and Computing, says UofSC’s AI Institute is unique because it will incorporate multiple academic disciplines across the campus, including those outside of traditional STEM fields.

In addition to focusing on basic science and AI theory, the institute also will engage in projects that have a direct impact on people’s lives. Researchers and students in areas as diverse as social work, education, mass communications, pharmacy and public health will utilize the center to develop novel AI applications that create self-improving solutions customized to the needs of the end users. The Institute also will develop partnerships with healthcare entities seeking to improve patient outcomes.

In addition, the AI Institute plans to enlist philosophers, ethicists, public policy experts, and lawyers dedicated to exploring the societal impact of AI technology, both the good and the unintended negative outcomes. For example, some have expressed concern that autonomous vehicles could soon put tens of thousands of truck drivers out of work. While ethicists have helped the medical research community consider philosophical questions for decades, their introduction into the AI realm remains relatively new, Haj-Hariri said.

“As a flagship university, we are perfectly positioned to examine holistically not just what we can do, but what we should do,” he says. “We know that AI robots are never going to totally replace humans in the workforce because there are complex operations that humans are uniquely suited for. At the same time, we could see very rapid disruption in many areas and we need to examine how to optimally incorporate AI into society to manage these transitions from old to new.”

Several new faculty members are expected to join the AI Institute this fall. The Institute will initially be housed in the College of Engineering and Computing on Main Street, before it gets relocated to a 20,000 sqft academic and research space to be renovated in stages on Greene Street.


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