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University of South Carolina to get ‘smarter’ with new AI institute

SOURCE: Shutterstock
AI can turn big data into 'smart data', aiding advances in many industries.

An institute dedicated to researching and developing artificial intelligence (AI) uses across a variety of academic disciplines will be launched this summer at the University of South Carolina (USC).

The multimillion-dollar institute aims to expand and advance research already being conducted currently by dozens of faculty members across the university. In a release, the institute said its AI research would go towards developing “self-improving” and customised programmes for workers, pharmacists, teachers and more.

To do that, the institute will look into tapping the expertise of philosophers, ethicists, public policy experts and lawyers dedicated to exploring the impact, whether negative or positive, of the technology on society.

“For example, some have expressed concern that autonomous vehicles could soon put tens of thousands of truck drivers out of work.” 

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The university has recruited thought leader and AI scholar Amit Sheth to lead the institute. Sheth has vast expertise in AI, having helped launch and direct similar programmes for the University of Georgia and Wright State University in Ohio. USC also plans to recruit five new faculty members with AI expertise to its IT, computer science and computer engineering departments. A further five will be recruited to departments in other disciplines within the school.

Before going full-time in August, Sheth will be dedicating 20 percent of his time to the institute, collaborating with faculty members on grant proposals.

Autonomous Truck
Will autonomous vehicles displace truck drivers? Source: Shutterstock

The institute is the brainchild of USC’s College of Engineering and Computing Dean Hossein Haj-Hariri, in consultation with fellow university deans. Noting the research has received sound support from the state, he said Sheth’s background in AI research and reputation would help amplify USC’s work in AI.

“Other AI experts follow Sheth’s research — more than 100 of his papers have each been cited at least a hundred times — and he has a track record of success,” he points out.

“Sheth appreciates the opportunity to expand AI research into all facets of our comprehensive university as well as reaching out to our state.”

Quoting Sheth’s tagline on AI, “We convert big data to smart data”, Hossein acknowledged the technology’s tremendous potential to derive real value from data, both quickly and at scale.

“AI makes it possible to manage the challenges of big data, convert it to ‘smart data,’ reveal the opportunities that it harbors, and create value by enabling better decision-making, more timely actions, and more customized solutions at large scales.”

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According to USC, the institute will receive US$1 million annually for five years. The university has committed between US$2 million and US$3 million to renovate the top floor of its former law school on South Main Street.

Construction on the building, which will house the director and core faculty from colleges and schools across the university, will be completed by fall 2020. Prior to its completion, Sheth and his team will operate from a temporary space in the Swearingen Engineering Center.

“The faculty who will be there are already multidisciplinary, they know how to work with people in other disciplines,” Hossein says.

“But their students will be truly transdisciplinary because they will be educated across the boundaries. They will learn all of it together — engineering, computing, business, humanities, etc. — and they will contribute and lead.”

Some 45 faculty members already conduct AI research across various disciplines at USC, including education, social work, journalism and mass communications, public health, and engineering and computing.

Hossein says the new institute will likely spawn new degree programmes at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.

“I think this institute will flourish because when you put AI experts with idea people from different disciplines, the opportunities for transformative solutions and external funding are wide,” he says.