National Science Foundation spearheads new funding to improve diversity in AI workforce

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In collaboration with six other federal groups, the NSF will focus on expanding minority-serving university offerings in artificial intelligence and machine learning education.

Several federal research bodies are collaborating to launch a new inclusivity program that aims to help bring minority-serving educational institutions into the artificial intelligence field, as more technologies incorporate AI and machine learning software. 

The U.S. National Science Foundation, in conjunction with other agencies including the Department of Homeland Security, Science and Technology Directorate; U.S Department of Agriculture, National Institute of Food and Agriculture, and National Institute of Standards and Technology, established the ExpandAI program to cultivate a more diverse AI/ML workforce. 

“In close collaboration with our federal partners and with the AI Institutes program, NSF Is launching ExpandAI in order to enable an even broader community of researchers to advance the Nation's AI capacity in scientific power and workforce," said Margaret Martonosi, the NSF assistant director for Computer and Information Science and Engineering, in a statement. 

The program, adhering to the guidance outlined in the earlier in the National AI Strategic Plan published in 2019, will direct more federal funding to AI research and development education, specifically within institutions that serve a diverse student population and specify in AI education. 

The key feature of ExpandAI is providing federal funding for development projects and partnerships among the participating National AI Research Institutes and incorporating more diverse student teams.

Capacity development projects will specifically work to establish new AI education centers within minority serving colleges and universities that do not currently offer AI/ML curriculs and have a large population of African Americans/Black American, Hispanic American, American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander students.

Some of the schools that already offer strong AI/ML education tracks that have partnered with NSF include Ohio State University, the University of California San Diego, Georgia Tech, and Duke University. 

“We hope to see a more diverse, more inclusive participation of talented innovators from across our nation, driving AI research and innovation that continues to build our country's AI leading capabilities and workforce development,” Martonosi said. 

Each institution looking to qualify for capacity building funding may receive a grant of up to $400,000 dispersed over the course of two years. By contrast, institutions that already offer advanced AI/ML courses can receive between $300,000 to $700,000 over the course of up to four years. 

Some of the previous projects funded by ExpandAI have focused on advancing research in rural health, molecular biology research, environmental science, and industry optimization.

Increasing diversity in the programming workforce behind AI/ML technologies has been a priority area for the Biden administration and various private industry leaders as AI algorithms have proven to discriminate against people of color and other historically vulnerable groups. 

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