NSF News

Bridging the resource divide for artificial intelligence research

Today, the National Artificial Intelligence Research Resource, or NAIRR, Task Force presented an interim report to the President and Congress. AI drives scientific discovery, from quantum particles to the supermassive black hole in the depths of the Milky Way. AI is also transforming our world, from helping us avoid traffic on the way to work to recommending the items that we buy. AI courses are some of the most popular in U.S. universities. AI-based companies are scaling at breakneck speeds. Worldwide, AI-related publications and patent applications are rising.

However, pathways to participate in AI research and development are limited. Progress at the frontiers of AI requires advanced computational power and data. Access to these essential resources is often limited to large technology companies and well-resourced universities. Limited access means limited ideas and limited perspectives shaping AI innovations. It means AI innovations can be incomplete and prone to systemic biases and inequities.

Left unaddressed, this growing resource divide could hurt AI research ecosystems and the ability to develop an AI research community and workforce that reflect America's diversity. This resource divide impacts who has access and thus who gets to conduct research and develop AI-driven technologies.

"Including the full breadth of geographic and demographic perspectives in AI R&D will shape the best AI innovations possible," said Manish Parashar, director of the U.S. National Science Foundation's Office of Advanced Cyberinfrastructure. "Bridging the AI resource gap is our opportunity for better AI innovation that benefits everyone." Parashar is a co-chair of theNAIRR Task Force and leads NSF's broader efforts in supporting advanced research cyberinfrastructure for the nation's science and engineering enterprise.

Established in June 2021 by the National AI Initiative Act of 2020, the NAIRR Task Force has been seeking to address this resource divide. As a congressionally chartered federal advisory committee, the NAIRR Task Force has been developing a plan to establish a national AI research resource that would democratize access to AI R&D for America's researchers and students. The NAIRR is envisioned as a broadly accessible and federated collection of resources, including computational infrastructure, public and private sector data, and testbeds. These resources would be made available through an intuitive interface, with educational tools and user support will facilitate their use. An important element of the NAIRR will be the expertise to design, deploy, federate and operate these resources.

Since its establishment, the NAIRR Task Force has held seven public meetings, engaged with 39 experts on a wide range of aspects related to the design of the NAIRR, and considered 84 responses from the public to a request for information, or RFI. Materials from all public meetings and responses to the RFI can be found at www.AI.gov/nairrtf.

This report lays out a vision for how this national cyberinfrastructure could be structured, designed, operated and governed to meet the needs of America's research community. It presents an approach to establishing the NAIRR that builds on existing and future federal investments; designs in protections for privacy, civil rights and civil liberties; and promotes diversity and equitable access. It details how the NAIRR should support the full spectrum of AI research – from foundational to translational – by providing opportunities for students and researchers to access resources that would otherwise be out of reach.

"AI doesn't just stand for artificial intelligence, it must also stand for accessibility and inclusion. The vision laid out in this interim report is the first step towards a more equitable future for AI R&D in America – a future where innovation can happen anywhere in America and the promise of AI can be realized in a way that works for all Americans," said NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan.

Going forward, to achieve the vision defined in the interim report, the NAIRR Task Force will develop a roadmap. The planned roadmap release will be the final report of the NAIRR Task Force, expected at the end of this year. To inform this work, the NAIRR Task Force is asking for feedback from the public on the findings and recommendations presented in the interim report as well as how those recommendations could be effectively implemented. Public responses to this request for information will be accepted through June 30, 2022. In addition, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and NSF will host a public listening session on June 23 to provide additional means for public input. Please see here for more information on how to participate.

If successful, the NAIRR would transform the U.S. national AI research ecosystem by strengthening and democratizing foundational, use-inspired and translational AI R&D in the United States. The interim report of the NAIRR Task Force being released today represents a first step towards this future, putting forward a vision for the NAIRR for public comment and feedback.