Turning big data into smart data
New AI Institute launches to elevate research efforts already underway
By Chris Horn, firstname.lastname@example.org, 803-777-3687
A new Artificial Intelligence Institute at the University of South Carolina will launch this summer, building on and harnessing the collective efforts of dozens of faculty members who already are advancing AI research initiatives in diverse academic disciplines.
The institute will be led by Amit Sheth, an acknowledged thought leader and scholar of artificial intelligence who has previously helped launch and direct similar programs at the University of Georgia and Wright State University in Ohio. Sheth is devoting 20 percent of his time to the institute now, collaborating with South Carolina faculty members on grant proposals, and he will begin full time in August.
“Other AI experts follow Sheth’s research — more than 100 of his papers have each been cited at least a hundred times — and he has a track record of success,” says Hossein Haj-Hariri, dean of the College of Engineering and Computing, who proposed the institute after consulting with fellow deans across the university. “Sheth appreciates the opportunity to expand AI research into all facets of our comprehensive university as well as reaching out to our state. Secretary of Commerce Bobby Hitt and his office have been very supportive of this initiative.”
The institute will amplify the university’s robust footprint in data analytics.
“I like the tagline Amit uses about artificial intelligence, which is ‘We convert big data to smart data,’ ” Haj-Hariri says. “AI makes it possible to manage the challenges of big data, convert it to ‘smart data,’ reveal the opportunities that it harbors, and create value by enabling better decision-making, more timely actions, and more customized solutions at large scales.”
The Artificial Intelligence Institute will receive $1 million annually for five years, and the university has committed $2 million to $3 million to renovate the top floor of the former law school on South Main Street. Slated for completion by fall 2020, that space will house the director and core faculty from colleges and schools across the university. In the interim, Sheth and his group will have temporary office space in the Swearingen Engineering Center.
“The faculty who will be there are already multidisciplinary, they know how to work with people in other disciplines,” Haj-Hariri says. “But their students will be truly transdisciplinary because they will be educated across the boundaries. They will learn all of it together — engineering, computing, business, humanities, etc. — and they will contribute and lead.”
AI makes it possible to manage the challenges of big data, convert it to ‘smart data,’ reveal the opportunities that it harbors, and create value by enabling better decision-making, more timely actions, and more customized solutions at large scales.
Hossein Haj-Hariri, dean of the College of Engineering and Computing
The 45 university faculty members already engaged in some form of AI research hail from education, social work, journalism and mass communications, public health, and engineering and computing. Haj-Hariri says his college plans to recruit five new faculty members with AI expertise to the departments of integrated information technology and computer science and computer engineering. As many as five more AI researchers will be recruited to other departments within the college.
Other colleges, notably the College of Information and Communications and the Arnold School of Public Health, have expressed interest in hiring more faculty in this area, according to Haj-Hariri. In addition, the university’s Research Computing group is excited about a stronger push into AI and have begun a dialogue with Sheth.
In addition to a founding director, the Artificial Intelligence Institute also plans to recruit an ethicist who will study the implications not only of what is possible with AI but also what might be in some way harmful or an invasion of privacy.
Haj-Hariri anticipates that new degree programs at the undergraduate and graduate level will likely emerge from the institute.
“I think this institute will flourish because when you put AI experts with idea people from different disciplines, the opportunities for transformative solutions and external funding are wide,” he says.
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