Kathy Hochul to Propose AI Research Center Using $275 Million in New York State Funding

In her third State of the State address, Governor Kathy Hochul will propose a statewide consortium, the first of its kind, that would bring together public and private resources to put New York at the forefront of the artificial intelligence landscape.

Under the plan, Ms. Hochul would allocate $275 million in state funds to build a center that would be used jointly by a handful of public and private research institutions, including the State University of New York and City University. from New York.

Columbia University, Cornell University, New York University and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute would each contribute $25 million to the project, known as “Empire AI.” Additional private financing has been raised from billionaire Thomas Secunda, who helped found Bloomberg LP, and through Simons. Foundation, whose affiliated research center, the Flatiron Institute, will also be a partner.

The initiative will include a physical center in upstate New York where, Hochul said, consortium members will be able to remotely access the significant computing power needed to run modern AI software.

The futuristic approach stands out from many of the governor’s other proposals, which aim to combat problems such as medical debt, literacy and maternal mortality.

Hochul described it as a significant investment that would strengthen the state’s economy for years, helping to offset disparities between technology companies and academic institutions in the race to develop AI.

“This is not just a win for the future of technology; it is a win for institutions across the state that will benefit from the growth of this technology,” Hochul said in a statement.

New York’s foray into AI development comes at a time when such research faces new challenges. Researchers develop artificial intelligence technologies by exposing AI models to large amounts of information, much of which comes from the Internet. But lawsuits from the owners of that information – including The New York Times – have raised questions about who should have access to it and for what reasons.

Hochul will also have to sell his proposal to the Democratic-controlled state Legislature, which will weigh it against many other priorities. This year, that negotiation will have to take into account a looming budget deficit.

Many progressives favor raising taxes on the wealthy, but Hochul has so far refused to go down that route, saying raising taxes would drive higher earners out of the state.

Hochul’s economic strategy so far has included a series of big investments, such as a $5.5 billion incentive package to secure Micron’s new facility outside Syracuse, which he hopes will secure New York’s place in the tech market. .

The new project has some high-profile supporters: Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI, applauded the proposal and said such public-private partnerships were “critical to the development and deployment of safe and beneficial AI technologies.”

Julie Samuels, president and CEO of Tech:NYC, which represents companies such as Google, Microsoft and Meta, said the consortium would attract not only academics but also companies eager to hire top talent.

Companies like Microsoft and Google have long dominated this space, largely because they have had access to the expensive computing resources and data that AI systems need. That advantage has also allowed technology companies to attract researchers to private industry, where they can earn much more than in academic institutions.

“In a sense, we are unable to compete in the way we would like,” explained Jeannette Wing, a computer science professor and executive vice president for research at Columbia University.

And while the consortium would not completely level the playing field between the public and private sectors, it could allow researchers to access tools that until now were out of reach.

“The industry is moving so fast that they don’t really have time to think about the long-term future about where this technology is going. That’s the role of academia,” Dr. Wing said, adding that researchers could also address ethical questions that those in industry might have less incentive to consider.

Still, some questioned the state’s plan, which would involve creating its own cloud computing infrastructure rather than building on existing platforms like Amazon or Google, a logistically complicated task that could also raise concerns about security and reliability.

“It’s a huge effort,” said Oren Etzioni, former technical director of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence. “Is this going to reinvent the wheel to put the Big Apple stamp on it or the New York State stamp on it? “That could be very worrying.”

Hochul’s team highlighted that a key goal of the project was to challenge the monopoly that big tech companies have over AI, enabling collaborative research in the public interest.

Proponents say such a collaboration would allow academics to apply AI technology to entirely new fields of study, from urban planning to medicine and music.

“Actually, I would like weather people to have access to more powerful computer systems,” Kathryn Garcia, New York’s chief operating officer, said in an interview the day before a snowstorm was expected to hit. the state.

“I have a prognosis that could be ‘maybe nothing’ or ‘maybe a lot,'” he added. “When you’re trying to plan and be prepared for something, our current weather models are not keeping up with the evolution of climate change.”

Cade Metz contributed reports.