SBU’s artificial intelligence director is the real deal

Artificial news: Renowned machine-learning expert Steven Skiena, who first joined the Stony Brook University faculty in 1988, will head the university's new Institute for AI-Driven Discovery and Innovation.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

A Fulbright Scholar and distinguished professor in the Department of Computer Science will head up Stony Brook University’s new Institute for AI-Driven Discovery and Innovation.

Steven Skiena, a computational biologist (among other talents) in his 30th year as a member of the SBU faculty, will direct the artificial intelligence-focused program, part of the university’s College of Engineering and Applied Science.

The institute will be the center point for myriad Stony Brook-based AI research efforts focused on the notion that artificial intelligence “should amplify human intelligence instead of replacing it,” under an “overarching vision” the university calls “Human-Machine Symbiosis.”

“By leveraging their respective strengths to compensate each other’s weaknesses, the human-machine partnership becomes mutually beneficial and far more potent at problem-solving than what either can do in isolation,” the university said in a statement.

What sounds like a “Star Trek” villain’s monologued plot reveal is not nearly so ominous, notes Fotis Sotiropoulos, dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences, who believes “intelligent machines” can greatly benefit human engineers, for instance.

“The advent of AI is ushering in a new era in the history of humanity,” Sotiropoulos said Monday. “Its consequences can be so vast and far-reaching that (they) are hard to even imagine today.

He literally wrote the book: And five others, part of Steven Skiena’s long and distinguished career.

“Stony Brook is well-positioned to lead both in advancing AI-centric research and economic development,” the dean added, “as well as in educating the engineering workforce for the era of intelligent machines.”

And Skiena is the perfect person to lead the charge, according to Sotiropoulos, who is “really pleased that a computer scientist of the caliber of Professor Skiena will spearhead our efforts.”

Skiena – whose decades of research combines algorithms, data science, natural language processing and sentiment analysis – is the author of more than 150 technical papers and six books, including “The Algorithm Design Manual,” a popular tech-industry textbook used widely for job-interview preparation.

“Recent advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning are dramatically changing the notions of what computers can do,” Skiena said in a statement.

And by centralizing disparate research focused on computational science, medicine and other unrelated fields, but somehow involving AI, the Institute for AI-Driven Discovery and Innovation is determined to plot the new course.

The institute will be partially supported by the SUNY Empire Innovation Program, a state-funded grant program dedicated to recruiting and retaining world-class faculty throughout the state university system.

Other state programs and private fundraising efforts will also kick in, supporting the institute’s “foundational research areas,” which include Predictive Intelligence, Ethical AI and Scalable Knowledge Acquisition – essentially, the science of organizing existing knowledge to achieve full learning potential.

The institute will leverage those research focus areas, also set to include Explainable AI and Trustworthy AI, against four “grand challenges,” according to the university: healthcare, infrastructure, education and finance.

Under Skiena’s guiding hand, the institute will also develop new educational programs designed to anticipate the needs of an AI-driven economy and prepare an appropriate workforce. Scheduled efforts range from core technical to tech-policy programs, with entrepreneurship and other economic-stimulation programs in the works.

With its virtual fingers in so many educational and economic pies, Skiena computes an excellent opportunity for SBU’s new AI-Driven Institute to rise to the top of a critical and rapidly expanding sector.

“I see the Institute as a way to advance research and education … at Stony Brook in computer science, engineering (and) medicine, and throughout the university,” the director added.


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