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Monday, May 10, 2021

UF in the early stages of AI transformation

The $70 million supercomputer is currently available to researchers, but AI courses for students will be available Fall 2021

As soon as Fall 2021, UF students can learn how to use artificial intelligence to improve agriculture, remove bias from algorithms and advance social justice.

UF’s push to incorporate AI technology across campus is part of a larger effort to nurture an AI-empowered campus with the help of the most powerful AI supercomputer available in higher education.

The AI system added by the university in the Summer is in ‘early user’ mode, so only researchers have access to it right now, Erik Deumens, the director of UFIT Research Computing, wrote in an email.

However, the university is looking to hire 100 more people with AI expertise who will help implement the technology across campus by Fall 2021. UF has asked the Florida legislature to fund these positions in the upcoming budget year, UF spokesperson Cynthia Roldan wrote in an email. 

All these new programs will be powered by UF’s already existing supercomputer, HiPerGator, which has been in use since 2013. Nvidia donated technology to the supercomputer, which significantly increases its computing power, giving it the ability to run all the AI programs rolling out Fall 2021.

Computer science programs aren’t the only ones looking for researchers with AI expertise. Programs searching for AI professionals range from agriculture to history.

Despite the possibility of staff furloughs due to COVID-19, UF is investing $20 million into the project and UF alumnus and co-founder of Nvidia, a hardware tech company, Chris Malachowski is donating $25 million. Nvidia also invested $25 million.

UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences wants to use AI to improve the tools available to its network of over 20 plant breeders spread across Florida, who find new and better ways to grow crops such as vanilla and hemp. 

The benefits of plant breeding can include disease resistance and higher yield of seeds, which help growers get more crops on the market, Patricio Muñoz, a blueberry breeder and genomicist at UF’s Blueberry Breeding and Genomics Lab, said. 

UF’s new AI capabilities could improve IFAS’s ability to predict what kind of traits a crop will possess as it grows, Muñoz said. The institute’s goal is to teach UF students and IFAS plant breeders how to use the technology as early as Fall 2021.

The AI technology can also be used to help solve social issues in the field of AI, such as removing racial biases from AI programs that already exist.

The African American Studies program at UF will offer courses in the Fall that teach about prejudices and stereotypes rooted in AI technology, program director David Canton said.

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Machines may be objective, but the people creating algorithms aren't, Canton said. He hopes to create courses that will enable students to examine algorithms powered by AI technology and point out problems having to do with racial stereotypes present in them. 

Canton argued that it’s important for computer scientists to learn about history and racism to prevent bias in technology.

“If I go to Silicon Valley right now, they’ll all fail a test on African-American history,” Canton said. 

UF’s Center for Gender, Sexualities and Women’s Studies Research is on a similar search for a researcher with AI experience, with the goal of building courses focused on how AI is shaped by gender, race and sexuality. The center also wants to study how the technology can be used for social justice, Bonnie Moradi, the director of the Center for Gender, Sexualities, and Women’s Studies Research, wrote in an email.

Part of the $70 million investment for the supercomputer will go toward constructing the Malachowsky Hall for Data Science & Information Technology, a new building across the street from the Welcome Center in the Reitz Union.

The building will be big enough to fit about four and a half football fields and completed by Spring 2023, according to UF Information Technology. The Wertheim College of Engineering, the College of Medicine, the College of Pharmacy and the Informatics Institute will all occupy the building along with other programs.

UF’s AI technology is giving students and staff an opportunity to help shape the world using some of the most advanced AI tools in the world, leading to more sustainability and equality in the coming years.

Contact Alexander Lugo at alugo@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @alexlugo67.

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Alexander Lugo

Alexander is a fourth-year journalism student at UF. This is his first semester at The Alligator where he is covering university administration. In his free time, he enjoys taking hikes and going for bike rides. 


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