UB to receive $20M federal grant for artificial intelligence research

The University at Buffalo will receive a $20 million grant from the National Science Foundation to conduct artificial intelligence research as part of the National AI Institute, U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer’s office announced Monday.

The huge NSF grant is the first of 2023, the first New York State has ever received and the first since Schumer’s plan to boost NSF funding for innovation to better compete with China was adopted last year.

The grant also represents the largest award currently possible from the National AI Institute, an arm of the NSF founded in 2019 to support institutions focused on “long-term, high-reward AI research,” according to its website.

The new UB AI Institute for Exceptional Education will use the grant to further applications that can assist students with communication disabilities and improve their educational outcomes, Schumer said.

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“The University at Buffalo is leading New York and our nation in developing major innovations in education technology, and now Buffalo will host NY’s first ever National AI institute to transform education for children who struggle to communicate,” Schumer, D-N.Y., said.

“This major federal investment will help bring technology into the classroom to ensure all children receive the help they need with speech and language processing challenges – all thanks to the research of Buffalo scientists.”

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Brian Higgins also backed the grant for UB after Schumer’s CHIPS and Science Bill increased NSF funding by more than $1 billion to jump-start research and development and STEM workforce training.

Schumer said the artificial intelligence technology being developed at UB will provide well-paying research jobs, a stronger tech workforce and more cutting-edge innovations “to help families and children across America get access to the education they need.”

Over 3.4 million children need speech- and language-related services in school systems across America, but there are fewer than 61,000 speech language pathologists to serve them. Resource shortages and the pandemic have exacerbated the problem, making it hard for children to get the help they need to address speech issues in school, UB President Satish K. Tripathi said.

The Institute for Exceptional Education at UB will be a partnership between NSF and the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Special Education Research at the Institute of Education Sciences, with each agency contributing $10 million to directly address the problem.

The institute supports developing advanced AI technologies to scale speech language pathologists’ availability and services so no child in need of speech and language services is left behind.

UB is developing two novel AI solutions – an AI Screener to enable universal early screening for all children, and the AI Orchestrator to work with speech pathologists to provide individualized interventions for children within their formal Individualized Educational Plan (IEP).

“In developing these solutions, the Institute will advance foundational AI technologies, enhance understanding of children’s speech and language development, serve as a nexus point for special education stakeholders, and represent a fundamental paradigm shift in how speech language pathologists serve children in need of ability-based speech and language services,” UB said in its grant application.

Since 2020, NSF has founded 19 AI Institutes across the country, totaling $240 million in grants.

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