Thanks to a collaboration between the U.S. government, leading tech companies, and educational institutions, the National Artificial Intelligence Research Resource (NAIRR) pilot program is up and running. This initiative was born from President Joe Biden’s Executive Order on the Safe, Secure, and Trustworthy Development and Use of Artificial Intelligence and is a concerted effort to democratize access to advanced AI resources and foster innovation across various sectors. In other words, the NAIRR pilot was created to lower the barrier of entry into the world of advanced AI systems.

Bridging AI resource gap through public-private partnerships

NAIRR aims to connect U.S. researchers and educators to computational, data, and training resources needed to advance AI research. The Organization is spearheaded by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) in partnership with ten other federal agencies and numerous non-governmental partners, including Nvidia (NASDAQ: NVDA), Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL), Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT), and more.

“The NAIRR is a vision of a national research infrastructure that will provide access to computing, data, models and software to empower researchers and communities,” said Katie Antypas, director of the Office of Advanced Cyberinfrastructure at the NSF.

“Smaller institutions, rural institutions, institutions serving underrepresented populations are key communities we’re trying to reach with the NAIRR. These communities are less likely to have resources to build their own computing or data resources,” she added.

The cost to build, train, and deploy an AI system can range from a few thousand dollars for a small project to the tens/hundreds of thousands and even millions for large-scale projects, especially in a corporate or research setting. This is because creating and running an AI model requires numerous resources, such as high-powered GPUs or cloud computing to run the models, as well as costs associated with acquiring and storing data, maintaining the system with regular updates and retraining the models, and hiring the right personnel—data scientists, machine learning engineers—to operate these systems.

While large corporations are in a position to eat these costs, a significant portion of the population cannot do the same and are practically excluded from participating in these spaces at a high level because they do not have the money or access to the resources that they would need to be competitive.

To bridge this gap, NAIRR has partnered with both public and private companies that have all pledged resources to NAIRR to make the artificial intelligence industry more equitable. For example, Microsoft is offering $20 million in Azure compute credits and access to advanced AI models, and Nvidia is contributing $30 million in technology over two years, including AI supercomputing resources and software so that underrepresented populations can have access to the same tools that tech giants are using to create AI systems.

“Partnerships are really at the core of the NAIRR pilot,” said Tess DeBlanc-Knowles, NSF’s special assistant to the director for artificial intelligence.

“It’s been incredibly impressive to see this breadth of partners come together in these 90 days, bringing together government, industry, nonprofits and philanthropies,” she added. “Our industry and nonprofit partners are bringing critical expertise and resources, which are essential to advance AI and move forward with trustworthy AI initiatives.”

Advancing AI research and education in the United States

At the moment, the NAIRR pilot is structured around four key operational areas:

  • NAIRR Open: Led by NSF, this area supports open AI research by offering access to diverse AI resources through the NAIRR Pilot Portal.
  • NAIRR Secure: Co-led by the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Energy, this area focuses on AI research that requires privacy and security-preserving resources.
  • NAIRR Software: Also led by NSF, this area facilitates the interoperable use of AI software and tools.
  • NAIRR Classroom: This area is dedicated to reaching new communities through education, training, and outreach.

In addition, NAIRR is surveying researchers, educators, and students to learn the challenges they face in the AI world as well as the potential use cases they have for NAIRR. They are also allowing individuals to apply for access to advanced computing resources and are offering several resources that are already live on their website, such as large datasets and developer kits.

US strategy to protect AI innovation

Back in October, the Biden Administration issued an executive order mandating that NAIRR launch within 90 days of the order. In particular, it said:

“Within 90 days of the date of this order, in coordination with the heads of agencies that the Director of NSF deems appropriate, launch a pilot program implementing the National AI Research Resource (NAIRR), consistent with past recommendations of the NAIRR Task Force. The program shall pursue the infrastructure, governance mechanisms, and user interfaces to pilot an initial integration of distributed computational, data, model, and training resources to be made available to the research community in support of AI-related research and development.”

The strategic establishment of the National Artificial Intelligence Research Resource by the United States is really just another venture into the world of open-source AI tools and data for the research community. Historically, the open-source approach has significant advantages because making tools and data widely available tends to speed up innovation and problem-solving by leveraging a broad range of expertise and perspectives. But beyond that, NAIRR is a calculated move by the U.S. to retain and attract the brightest minds in AI. By focusing on domestic innovation, NAIRR is set to position and fortify the United States as a global leader in AI development, ensuring that the future of AI not only progresses rapidly but also aligns with the strategic interests and technological sovereignty of the nation.

“The breadth of partners that have come together for this pilot underscores the urgency of developing a National AI Research Resource for the future of AI in America. By investing in AI research through the NAIRR pilot, the United States unleashes discovery and impact and bolsters its global competitiveness,” said NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan.

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