At new SBU hub, artificial intelligence is the real deal

Fast learners: Stony Brook University's new Institute for AI-Driven Discovery and Innovation will leverage SBU's existing AI efforts.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

A cornerstone of Long Island’s innovation economy has partnered with a New York City-based technology icon to launch a new hub for regional AI research.

Stony Brook University this week officially flipped the switch on its new Institute for AI-Driven Discovery and Innovation, a research-and-development hub laser-focused on what the university calls “the AI-driven economy of the future.”

At a May 9 launch event hosted in New York City by global finance, software and data specialist Bloomberg LP, the university introduced its new innovation institute located in Stony Brook  and its wide range of programs, covering core artificial-intelligence technologies, science communication, tech policy and other AI-related issues.

The institute – funded primarily by two grants (totaling $4.5 million) from the SUNY Empire Innovation Program, as well as New York State stipends and private donations – will focus on “four grand challenges,” according to SBU: healthcare, infrastructure, education and finance.

To do that, it will build on a number of existing AI-fueled efforts already underway at SBU, including cutting-edge projects to improve the accuracy of cancer diagnoses, better understand the progression of mental illnesses and better protect engendered Antarctic penguins, among others.

Kristina Johnson: Unlocking innovation.

Perhaps most importantly, the new AI hub will continue the university’s tradition of cross-disciplinary education – increasingly important in a data-driven economy that’s only growing more interrelated, according to Stony Brook University President Samuel Stanley Jr.

“Stony Brook is one of the top research universities in the world, but what truly sets us apart is our cross-disciplinary, collaborative approach to discovery and our understanding of the importance of partnering with industry to develop the big, transformative ideas,” Stanley said at the Bloomberg launch event.

“We are excited to share our vision for AI innovation and why Stony Brook University is uniquely positioned to help New York State emerge as a national leader in AI,” Stanley added. “Scientists across our campus – from archaeology to marine sciences to psychology – have already benefited from incorporating AI into their research.

“As we go forward, areas in the humanities, such as philosophy and sociology, will play a critical role in the growth of our AI initiatives.”

Specifically, the institute will focus on five fundamental research areas: predictive intelligence, explainable AI, trustworthy AI, ethical AI and the acquisition of automated and scalable knowledge.

Bloomberg is “really looking forward to working with [SBU] in the future,” according to Gideon Mann, who heads Bloomberg’s data-science efforts. The NYC analytics, data services and media giant will not only help sharpen the institute’s focus, but will benefit from its function, noted Mann, who already counts 160-plus SBU grads among Bloomberg’s global workforce, “mostly in our Engineering Department.”

“It’s encouraging to see Stony Brook University training the next generation of data scientists, who will build AI systems like the ones we work on here at Bloomberg,” he added. “Our work teaching machine-learning skills to our engineers builds on the education provided by the wonderful schools around New York City, and Stony Brook University is no exception.”

Steven Skiena: Catalyitc crossovers.

But SBU is an exception, according to SUNY Chancellor Kristina Johnson, who said the state university system’s Long Island crown jewel “has all the right pieces to the AI equation” – including a “strong partnership” with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory, one of SUNY’s three cutting-edge hospitals and “extensive technical expertise.”

The deck’s even more stacked than that, suggests Distinguished Teaching Professor of Computer Science and Institute for AI-Driven Discovery and Innovation Director Steven Skiena, who says a number of additional SBU resources – including AI-savvy faculty at the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences – give the new hub even more opportunity to excel.

“Stony Brook University is already catalyzing cross-disciplinary research in AI and machine learning,” Skiena noted. “We have worked to strengthen the AI community of the faculty.”

In fact, keeping humanity in the equation is another overriding theme of the new institute, where Human-Machine Symbiosis – based on the idea that AI technology should amplify human intelligence, not replace it – will also get lots of play, according to Dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences Fotis Sotiropoulos.

“The role of human work will need to be drastically reimagined and the workforce of the future must be prepared for sweeping changes,” Sotiropoulos said. “In higher ed, educational paradigms must be established that prepare students to work and creatively co-exist with AI systems.”

These myriad thoughts and angles will all be leveraged by the new AI hub, where the real focus – the end-of-the-day bottom line – is on commercialization, according to the SUNY chancellor.

“AI is the key to innovation,” Johnson said at the launch event. “We have already seen how it enables the creation of smart products and services … it drives new business models and creates new markets.

“I look forward to seeing the multiple outcomes to emanate from the institute,” the chancellor added. “I’m super-excited to see what we’ll do in the future.”