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UF students, get used to this topic: artificial intelligence

It's going to be everywhere in the course schedule, thanks to a $70 million partnership announced Tuesday.
An artist’s rendering shows the University of Florida’s new artificial intelligence supercomputer, to be installed by November. It is billed as the fastest supercomputer in academia.
An artist’s rendering shows the University of Florida’s new artificial intelligence supercomputer, to be installed by November. It is billed as the fastest supercomputer in academia. [ Courtesy of the University of Florida ]
Published Jul. 21, 2020

The University of Florida on Tuesday announced a $70 million partnership that will bring artificial intelligence to the forefront of the school’s technology programs and introduce the topic more broadly to the student body.

The joint effort with the California-based company NVIDIA will result in the hiring of 100 new faculty and touch every UF graduate with at least one class exposing them to artificial intelligence concepts, the university said. It also will give UF the fastest artificial intelligence supercomputer in higher education, officials said.

The discipline is a branch of computer science that has brought the world products like self-driving cars, food delivery robots and computers that engage humans in a game of chess. Artificial intelligence makes it possible for machines to perform human-like tasks by learning from experience and making adjustments.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, who was present for the Zoom announcement, said the initiative would attract students to UF from across the nation.

“I think it’s going to help the state of Florida modernize our workforce,” he said. “I think we’ll have an added boost as we seek to become an economic powerhouse and internally as we bounce back from the pandemic.”

Provost Joseph Glover said more than 600 faculty and staff members have been involved so far in conversations on how to incorporate the subject of artificial intelligence into their disciplines.

“We believe this is so important to our future and our students’ futures that every student who graduates from the University of Florida, no matter what their major is, should have the opportunity to acquire the knowledge, the training and the tools of artificial intelligence and data science,” Glover said. “This is not only important to our students but the nation.”

Glover said the partnership will help “catapult the University of Florida to the forefront of AI” and “create the next generation of AI-enabled workforce in this country.”

The announcement laid out the financial details of the partnership: a $25 million gift from Chris Malachowsky, co-founder of NVIDIA and an alumnus of UF’s Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering; $25 million in hardware, software, training and services from NVIDIA; and a $20 million investment from UF.

Chris Malachowsky is co-founder of NVIDIA and a University of Florida alumnus. [Courtesy of UF]
Chris Malachowsky is co-founder of NVIDIA and a University of Florida alumnus. [Courtesy of UF]

The supercomputer is expected to be installed by November. It’s an upgrade from the existing UF supercomputer known as HiPerGator. Malachowsky said the machine will be among the world’s top 10 supercomputers, capable of processing vast amounts of data that can be used across many fields, including climate research and medicine.

In explaining why the company brought the partnership to Florida, Malachowsky described the state as a “living laboratory for some of the really big problems of today for society,” with its long coastline, large population, varied demographics and “a workforce in need of upscaling to deal with the growing digital divide.”

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UF is in the process of infusing artificial intelligence into its curricula, Glover said. And, while not everyone will be expected to become a programmer, everyone will have exposure to it and the opportunity to be certified in that area, he said.

Certifications will include courses on ethics, bias and how artificial intelligence applies to certain disciplines. By spring, Glover said, he expects a survey course to be offered, and by next summer the school may offer more specific boot camps in artificial intelligence.

Cammy Abernathy, dean of the College of Engineering, said artificial intelligence is already being applied across disciplines to finding solutions for diabetes and as a means to combat climate change and red tide. Broadening access to the topic can lead to a more equitable society, she said.

“Philosophers, lawyers and computer scientists are working together to ensure that AI does not further enforce the biases that are present in our society and does not intrude on the privacy and rights of the public,” Abernathy said. “These issues of fairness and access are important, so much so that they will be at the heart of this initiative.”

Glover said the university will work to provide access to businesses, the K-12 education system, historically black colleges and universities and state and community colleges.

“The population in Florida will have opportunities to train on this,” Glover said.

Malachowsky said he hopes wealthy alumni in each state consider investing in artificial intelligence at their universities.

Rep. Michael T. McCaul, co-chair of the AI Caucus, said in a statement released by the university that the announcement serves as a model.

“Computing power is at the heart of artificial intelligence, and this investment in the fastest AI supercomputer in academia will ensure that the U.S. stays on the cutting edge of research and development,” he said.

Mori Hosseini, a member of UF’s Board of Trustees and former chair of the Board of Governors, said Tuesday’s announcement made him wish he could go back to school.

“We are all witnessing a significant moment in history for the state of Florida and the University of Florida,” he said.


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