Panel of UAlbany Experts Express Confidence in ‘Empire AI’ for Academic Use

(TNS) — At a forum on generative artificial intelligence held by the University at Albany on Jan. 31, more details emerged about Governor Kathy Hochul’s plan to allocate $275 million to establish an “Empire AI consortium” in New York.

During her State of the State speech in January, Hochul stated AI is the most pivotal technological and commercial advancement since the creation of the Internet and whoever dominates the AI industry will dominate the “upcoming era of human history.”
“I’m pleased to announce that New York will be the first location in the world to put that type of computing power directly in the hands of leading academic institutions that have stepped up to participate: Cornell, NYU, Columbia, RPI, and our entire SUNY and CUNY systems,” the governor said. “We have geniuses at these schools ready to innovate and launch companies. Now, they’ll have the power to change the world. In order to win the race for the future, we need this specific hardware. That’s why I’m proposing the Empire AI Consortium to purchase and share AI computing power right here in New York.”
Hochul stated the state had secured over $125 million from philanthropic and university partners and, over the next decade, the state will commit up to $275 million.

While addressing the media on Jan. 30, Hochul reaffirmed the backing from universities and private companies.
“The most eager people about this are from the SUNY and CUNY schools, as well as the privates, who are saying, ‘We want to be at the leading edge of this revolution. We want our researchers and our professors and our students to be able to take advantage,” Hochul said. “So, we want to move quickly on that. So, we will work out all the details, but it’s not complicated to me. This is about seizing the technologies of the future.”

Panelists gave their input on Hochul’s proposal during the conversation last Wednesday night, hosted by UAlbany’s College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security and Cybersecurity.

James Hendler, an AI researcher at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, stated the original intent of what came to be called Empire AI was to have a shared resource run largely by academia — instead of the technology industry. Companies could also pay the state to use the AI technology.
“So the question is, can New York provide this kind of computing power in a way that it will be cheaper to use for all of us,” Hendler said. “The feeling is, if we can get that kind of supercomputing power into the state, coupled with what’s happening around microelectronics — SUNY Albany is one of the leaders in several of these large initiatives — billions of dollars are going to be invested in microchips and things.”
Hendler added, as of right now, a large part of that industry are AI microchips, which are “very, very expensive,” and “tremendously power-consuming.”
Brian Nussbaum, associate professor at UAlbany’s College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security and Cybersecurity, said he believes AI technology could also assist people when they interact with the government.
“AI has the potential to really help people fill out forms more efficiently and that would free up people to help with the most complicated cases, where the simpler cases can be sort of streamlined and done more effectively. So, there are places where I think it has the potential to be very useful,” Nussbaum said. “One thing government has a lot of is filling out forms, filling those forms out in triplicate and submitting them to four different people … so, I do think there is the potential for a co-pilot in filling out those sorts of forms, which could be really useful.”
Hendler added that a multi-page document was also released around the State of the State speech that provides guidance on how to use AI technology in state government.
“If a state government wants to implement a chatbot on its site, it is now supposed to tell you, ‘Hi, I’m an AI Chatbot,’ and if it hands you off to a human, it’s supposed to say, ‘Hey, I can’t handle that anymore. I’m handing it off to a human,'” Hendler added. “They’re saying the principle is you should know if you’re talking to a human or a machine, and you know, that’s a great example.”
Panelists also discussed some of the worries and potential hazards around AI technology. Following the New Hampshire primary election last month, the state’s attorney general is currently investigating reports of a robocall that used AI to mimic President Joe Biden’s voice to discourage voters from voting.

“On the one hand, you’ve got to be ignorant enough in order to have it be actually useful to ask this [AI technology] a question, but you also have to be knowledgeable enough to be able to discern whether what it’s providing you is reliable,” Jason D’Cruz, associate professor and director of undergraduate studies in UAlbany’s Department of Philosophy, said. “And one of the problems is that it sounds so fluent and the things that it says sound so plausible that a lot of those signals of expertise that we often rely on, we can no longer rely on when we are engaging with the tool.”

©2024 The Daily Gazette, Schenectady, N.Y. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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