Tennessee artificial-intelligence center among Presidential advisors' ideas
By Milt Capps
A ROADMAP both pragmatic and ambitious has been published by the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) includes scores of observations and recommendations for enabling the United States to regain its balance and forward momentum by achieving increased research, innovation and economic gains.
The report, titled Recommendations for Strengthening American Leadership in Industries of the Future (IotF), suggests ways in which the nation and its Fifty States could broaden and accelerate their economies through domestic initiatives and appropriate international partners.
The report is particularly timely for states and communities that seek to leverage science, technology and other intellectual capital to strengthen their economies.
One eye-catching recommendation in the new PCAST report would ensure that Tennessee and all other states would each receive federal support for creating Artificial Intelligence (AI) Research Institutes within their boundaries.
The PCAST report recommends a "net investment" of $1BN over five years to establish the 50 state AI institutes.
More broadly, the report recommends increasing the annual federal budget for non-Defense AI spending from the FY2020 budget level of $1BN, to $10BN in FY2030.
The IotF sectors targeted in the PCAST report for advancement are, in addition to AI: quantum information science (QIS), advanced manufacturing, advanced communications ("5G and beyond), and biotechnology.
The plan would, among other things, advance research discoveries to create "applications at scale" and product development.
The interrelationships among all the PCAST IotF proposals -- as well as the weight assigned workforce and STEM development, diversity and inclusiveness, and many other topics -- are best described in the full PCAST document, which is available right here (PDF).
Below are a few excerpts the PCAST report that are mainly related to AI initiatives. We're focused on that not only because AI looms large within strategies for all industries of the future, but also because the proposed AI institutes in Tennessee and other states could translate into concrete benefits, early on.
The state-level AI institutes would not exist in isolation.
Participants in the network that includes the 50 state-level AI centers would also participate in "National AI Consortia," which would help drive the sharing of best practices, infrastructure, data, and computation resources. Shareable best practices might include, e.g., the integration of AI methodologies into "science workflows," says the report.
Other complementary PCAST proposals include an AI Fellow-in-Residence program, national-level AI testbeds, and partnerships for curating and sharing large datasets, plus joint international programs for attracting and retaining the talent, research and development (R&D), and training that are prerequisite for "trustworthy" future AI. (The report also notes "precision regulation," "AI ethical frameworks," and an "AI maturity model" among precursors to trustworthiness.)
The PCAST report also portrays state and national Institutes formed under this proposal as operating synergistically.
For example, the report says, one proposed institute would focus "on the R&D required to advance AI and ML tools and capabilities relevant to generative design in advanced manufacturing. Given the clear and far-reaching implications of AI and ML that continue to emerge in nearly all areas of S&T, another institute would ideally focus on R&D for leveraging the myriad data-intensive benefits of AI and ML within the particular context of advanced manufacturing and generative design, while also addressing a pressing need to expand U.S. manufacturing capabilities in the context of advanced communication integration & infrastructure (5Gand beyond)."
Also, a proposed institute would "combine R&D in AI and biotechnology to enhance the Nation's biosecurity, biosafety, and biosphere sustainability. The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed both daunting challenges and important opportunities within the field of biotechnology, particularly at the interface of biology, medicine, and advanced digital technologies. There is a clear need to sustain and expand the Nation's biological and biomedical R&D to improve our ability to manage and treat infectious disease."
Among other things, says the report, "PCAST proposes new systems of collaboration between government, industry, academia, and non-profit [science and technology] organizations. In addition to proposing actions that will allow the United States to maintain its leadership in IotF, PCAST sees enormous opportunity to accelerate scientific discovery by combining the power of AI, QIS, and high-performance computing (HPC)."
The stakes are high: The report also notes, "...American leadership [in IotF] it is not assured. Globalized access to information and accelerated technology adoption are collapsing the timescale for innovation--AI in particular is advancing at a pace not seen in any technological field in the last century. The advances in AI that are powering today's rapid progress are originating around the globe, and the United States cannot risk falling behind. The United States will need to move swiftly to increase investment and restructure its R&D partnerships across industry, academia, and government, and with other nations. The United States also will need to move quickly to address AI skills shortages in the workforce..."
The chairman of the PCAST is Kelvin Droegenmeier, who is director of the White House office of science and technology policy. Prior to taking his current post 18 months ago, he was Oklahoma's gubernatorial cabinet secretary of science and technology.
PCAST Executive Director Ed McGinnis, a member of the staff of the Executive Office of the President, told VNC this afternoon that the PCAST report was officially finalized June 30. Decisions regarding any further action on the proposals are under review.
Since 1933, beginning with President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Science Advisory Board, there have been groups akin to PCAST advising the U.S. President, according to historic information online. The "PCAST" identity has been in place for a series of such groups since 1990, though each administration's PCAST is typically authorized by executive order.
A spokesperson for Tennessee Economic and Community Development told VNC this afternoon that the agency was "not familiar with the report," but, after a review, it would provide any comments it might have. This story will be updated as warranted.
Prior to taking his current post in 3Q 2019, PCAST Executive Director McGinnis spent more than two decades in senior regulatory and security roles with U.S. Department of Energy, according to his LinkedIn.
McGinnis said his family tree has some Tennessee roots dating back to the early 1800s, and a family graveyard remains in the state's Grainger County, east of Knoxville. He said he visits Tennessee about once a year.