OU Receives $20M Grant to Lead Inaugural NSF AI Institute
Mike Seals - August 26, 2020 9:41 am
NORMAN, OKLA. – The University of Oklahoma is leading a National Science Foundation AI Institute for Research on Trustworthy AI in Weather, Climate, and Coastal Oceanography that is being hailed as a “historic milestone in environmental science.”
NSF recently announced an investment of more than $100 million to establish five AI Institutes to support research and education hubs nationwide. Amy McGovern, an OU professor with dual appointments in the School of Computer Science in the Gallogly College of Engineering and in the School of Meteorology in the College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences, will lead the NSF AI Institute for Research on Trustworthy AI in Weather, Climate, and Coastal Oceanography, which received $20 million of the NSF funding.
“Recognizing the critical role of AI, NSF is investing in collaborative research and education hubs, such as the NSF AI Institute for Research on Trustworthy AI in Weather, Climate, and Coastal Oceanography, anchored at the University of Oklahoma, which will bring together academia, industry and government to unearth profound discoveries and develop new capabilities advancing American competitiveness for decades to come,” said NSF director Sethuraman Panchanathan.
The institute has collaborators from Colorado State University, the University at Albany, the University of Washington, North Carolina State University, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, Del Mar College (Corpus Christi), the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Google, IBM, NVIDIA, Disaster Tech, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“Establishment of this new NSF AI Institute at OU is a historic milestone in environmental science,” said retired Navy Rear Adm. Tim Gallaudet, assistant secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and deputy NOAA administrator. “NOAA has made extraordinary progress in the application of AI to climate, weather and coastal oceanography. Our partnership with this Institute will accelerate that progress to dramatically improve our performance and efficiency in every one of our mission areas, including severe weather prediction, fisheries management, ocean mapping and exploration, and natural resource conservation.”
“We are thrilled that OU is leading this first-of-its-kind national research institute and that our own Dr. Amy McGovern was selected to spearhead the effort,” said OU President Joseph Harroz Jr. “By leveraging our nation’s leading AI experts across multiple disciplines and industries, the discoveries produced by this team will revolutionize what we know about weather and our environment – all of which directly ties to one of OU’s core traditions of harnessing breakthrough research to advance society.”
“At OU, researchers are driving convergent solutions to solve global challenges,” said Tomás Díaz de la Rubia, OU vice president for research and partnerships. “Dr. McGovern and her collaborators’ work is a perfect representation of how the OU research enterprise moves beyond traditional boundaries, across disciplines and across institutional boundaries to create solutions. This multi-sector approach will accelerate transformative change in the development and use of trustworthy AI. It will improve the nation’s understanding of severe weather and ocean phenomena, save lives and property, and increase societal resilience to climate change.”
Using AI to Save Sea Turtles
“It doesn’t get cold very often in Corpus Christi, but at times, strong cold fronts can decrease the temperature of the water in bays and lagoons very quickly,” said Philippe Tissot, associate research professor at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, one of the institute’s partnering organizations. “Up to thousands of sea turtles can rise to the surface during these events, where ships can run over them.”
Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi created a preliminary AI method predicting when these cold stunning events will take place. Because of this data, barge shipping companies have agreed to stop traffic ahead of the weather events so that volunteers, state and federal agencies can mobilize to save more than 80% of the sea turtles in that area.
McGovern said this is just one example of how AI can make an environmental impact. The long-term goal for the institute is to apply AI to a broad array of environmental challenges.
“This institute is a convergent center that will create trustworthy AI for environmental science, revolutionize prediction and understanding of high-impact weather and ocean hazards, and benefit society by protecting lives and property,” McGovern said. “Leading experts from AI, atmospheric and ocean science, risk communication, and education, will work synergistically to develop and test trustworthy AI methods that will transform our understanding and prediction of the environment.”
Developing Trustworthy AI
“The open-source collaboration within the institute will accelerate development of AI methods to create more accurate and actionable weather information for our business and consumer audiences,” said Kevin Petty from IBM’s The Weather Company. “Combining the expertise of academia, government and industry will close the gap from AI research to operations and help bring trusted value to those who need it to make better decisions, while helping to nurture the next generation of weather and AI researchers.
McGovern adds that environmental science provides an ideal testbed to advance trustworthy AI, given its grounding in nature’s physical laws and conservation principles, as well as the broad range of stakeholder feedback and high societal impact.
Julie Demuth, a research scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, which is another of the institute’s partnering organizations, said that trustworthiness is both a technical question and a social question.
“I’m excited that we’re integrating risk communication research into this institute, so we can best understand what trustworthy AI means to different user groups and accordingly develop AI information that truly helps them make better decisions when managing hazardous weather risk,” said Demuth.
Increasing Access to AI and Promoting Diversity in STEM
The institute will also launch a first-of-its-kind pilot AI certificate for community colleges that will teach AI to a new audience, and broaden participation by creating a pipeline for underrepresented students in different parts of the country, starting with Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi and its partner community college, Del Mar College, Corpus Christi. McGovern believes that the certificate to be tested at Del Mar College will soon be the first certificate for AI in geosciences in the nation.
“We are thrilled to work with such a great team to create a new type of AI program,” said Phillip Davis of Del Mar College. “As AI increasingly moves from research to applications, we need a new type of AI specialist. The AI Certificate will provide a new entry into AI and open doors for our very diverse community, including many Hispanic and first-generation students, and help the regional economy take better advantage of AI.”
Through the institute, private industry partners, along with the National Center for Atmospheric Research, will create an internship and mentoring program for underrepresented groups and develop unique workforce retraining modules for all ages that will engage users in learning AI for environmental applications.
“By leveraging private industry and existing successful internship programs for under-represented minority students, AI2ES will create a pipeline for these students to gain valuable experience in AI and environmental science,” McGovern said.
Response from Oklahoma’s Congressional Delegation
“The University of Oklahoma is doing great work to advance AI research for our nation and today’s announcement of $20 million in federal funding proves that,” US Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) said. “I am glad to see the National Science Foundation and OU collaborating on the opportunity to establish a top-notch AI institute and I look forward to seeing the scientific advancements they will make with it.”
“It is incredibly good news for our state and the University of Oklahoma to be named one of five National Science Foundation AI Research Institutes in the nation,” US Senator James Lankford (R-OK) said. “OU students and faculty will contribute greatly to advance the research in AI weather prediction. OU is already a national leader in weather research, which positions them well to take on this task. I look forward to seeing all they accomplish for our safety in the days ahead.”
“I am very proud that the National Science Foundation has chosen the University of Oklahoma to lead its Artificial Intelligence Institute for Research on Trustworthy AI in Weather, Climate, and Coastal Oceanography,” US Representative Tom Cole (R-OK4) said. “Located within a state known for its unusual weather patterns and already home to the National Weather Center, OU is uniquely and exceptionally positioned to bring together some of the finest minds in weather research, prediction and forecasting. Indeed, NSF’s decision to invest in and establish this research institute at OU will certainly pave the way for discovery and development of new capabilities and tools that better equip those confronting the mysteries of nature across the nation.”
“I’m proud to see that the University of Oklahoma will be home to a National Science Foundation Artificial Intelligence Institute,” US Representative Frank Lucas (R-OK3) said. “America’s leadership in AI will help keep us globally competitive and allow us to set the standards for ethical AI development and use. Applying AI to weather forecasting will improve our emergency preparedness, protect homes and businesses, and help agriculture and other industries operate efficiently. OU is already one of the premier weather research centers in our country, so there is no better place for the AI Institute for Research on Trustworthy AI in Weather, Climate, and Coastal Oceanography. I’m looking forward to seeing the breakthroughs that will come from OU and the other AI institutes around the country.”
“Artificial intelligence has a profound and growing impact on America’s economy and on our national security. As a member of the House Armed Services Committee and on the Committee on Science, Space and Technology, I’ve made investments in AI a priority because our nation should be at the cutting edge of this transformative technology,” US Representative Kendra Horn (D-OK5). “I’m proud to see the University of Oklahoma leading the way on AI research with its new artificial intelligence institute. Through this investment by the National Science Foundation, OU will use its AI research to better understand climate change and the risks it poses to our planet and communities.”
About the University of Oklahoma
Founded in 1890, the University of Oklahoma is a public research university located in Norman, Oklahoma. OU serves the educational, cultural, economic and health care needs of the state, region and nation. For more information visit www.ou.edu.
About the National Science Foundation
The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the United States as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2020 budget of $8.3 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.