Discover the Midwest’s AI powerhouse: University of Illinois

In the heart of Illinois, a revolution is underway. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) has established itself as a global leader in artificial intelligence (AI), driving transformative advances across industries and paving the way for a future where AI redefines what is possible. From groundbreaking research initiatives to critical partnerships with industry giants, the university’s commitment to AI innovation is reshaping the landscape of technology and education.

It was no coincidence that Arthur C. Clarke chose Urbana, Illinois, as the birthplace of HAL, the infamous fictional AI from 2001: A Space Odyssey. At the time, the University of Illinois (U of I) was becoming a powerhouse in the fields of technology represented by HAL. Today, the U of I’s Grainger College of Engineering and its brand new Siebel School of Computing and Data Science are a world-leading hub for AI innovation beyond anything Clarke could have imagined. Since 2019, the university has completed over $270 million in AI-related research projects, spurring advances in agriculture, biotechnology, education and other fields while equipping the next generation of inclusive experts with hands-on experience.

Illinois’ top-10 engineering school has a rich history of producing alumni, faculty and student entrepreneurs who are shaping the commercial AI landscape. An alum, CEO Tom Siebel, recently donated $50 million to transform the Department of Computer Science into the new Siebel School of Computing and Data Science to advance AI research and education at the U of I. Digital Transformation Institute also supports the Digital Transformation Institute ( DTI), a collaboration between Siebel’s, the University of Illinois, the University of California, Berkeley and Microsoft, which aims to accelerate the application of AI to enhance digital transformation in business, government and society. The institute started after the pandemic began and was instrumental in solving major medical, political and urban planning challenges related to COVID-19. The DTI has also contributed to solving ongoing issues of energy and climate security and to advancing AI sub-disciplines.

IBM-Illinois Discovery Accelerator Institute

Computer giant IBM recently committed $100 million to launch IBM-Illinois Discovery Accelerator Institute. Its mission is to use AI and augmented human intelligence, among other critical areas such as quantum technology, to create the hybrid cloud of tomorrow—specifically, to expand the potential of edge computing and cloud security capabilities across public and private clouds. IBM is currently headed by U of I Doctor Arvind Krishna.

“Grainger Engineering’s size and excellence drive innovation,” said Grainger Engineering Dean Rashid Bashir. “Few other higher education institutions offer the prominence and scope—there are hundreds of researchers working in AI-related fields—their research spans everything from the theoretical foundations of AI to new applications—of this Midwestern jewel.”

“We have all the ingredients needed to transform society through generative AI in all domains,” Bashir said. “With our new Siebel School of Computing and Data Science, we will be able to bring discipline-specific expertise for technology transfers in many areas that require more intelligence to move forward.”

“We have a long history of translating research into applications that have shaped our nation’s culture and economy,” said Nancy Amato, who will lead the new Siebel School of Computing and Data Science housed within Grainger Engineering. “We are also a place where industry comes to do cutting-edge research. We are the bridge between basic research and corporate breakthroughs.”

Several AI institutes

While AI spans all disciplines, not just in technology but across the U of I campus, its advancement is at the center of three Illinois-led AI institutes funded by the National Science Foundation.

AIFARMS (AI+Agriculture)

Global agricultural systems face enormous challenges in the coming years that could affect the reliability and sustainability of food supply chains. The industry is projected to spend $4.7 billion by 2028 on AI investments to meet these challenges. Artificial intelligence for future agricultural resilience, management and sustainability (AIFARMS) is a $20 million initiative that leverages AI to improve efficiency and solve problems in agriculture.

The researchers in the venture’s core areas—including computer vision, machine learning, data science, soft object manipulation, and intuitive human-robot interaction—are working to create more productive and sustainable agriculture without increased labor, improve livestock management with AI, and develop strategies to improve crop resilience.

Molecule Maker Lab Institute (AI+Chemical Synthesis)

Molecule Maker Lab Institute (MMLI) pushes the boundaries of science, promotes innovation and accelerates the discovery of new molecules and materials. The Institute’s AI-powered advances are critical to accelerating drug discovery, creating more sustainable pesticides and other agricultural chemicals, and designing new materials for diverse applications, such as biodegradable plastics and other environmentally friendly materials.

In the short four years since the $20 million institute was launched, MMLI has made many breakthroughs, including the development of the AlphaSynthesis platform, which offers a set of AI-driven tools for synthesis planning, catalyst discovery, process optimization and closed-loop discovery science. . The platform gives researchers access to click-and-go tools with a user-friendly interface, integrating knowledge from publicly available databases and publications.

INVITE (AI+Education)

Since Grainger Engineering was the launching pad for PLATO, the first computer-assisted education platform, it makes sense that it is partnering with educators today to power the next generation of AI-powered instructional technology. The Inclusive Intelligent Technologies for Education Institute (INVITE) is on a mission to fundamentally change how AI-based educational technology interacts with students, especially those students who have historically been marginalized in STEM education.

INVITE aims to transform vocational training and workforce education by integrating AI technology. This will increase the quality and efficiency of vocational education and prepare students for successful careers in a rapidly changing technological landscape.

AI Entrepreneurs

Many teachers apply their research in the development of commercial tools. Two new startups have emerged that are breaking through in medicine and construction:

  • Reconstruct: Machine learning powers this startup, which develops aerial robots to monitor construction sites. Civil engineering professor Mani Golparvar helped launch Reconstructwhich uses AI tools – such as reality mapping and 4D scheduling – to analyze construction data and provide insights for progress monitoring, quality control and facility assessment.
  • Transmission: This growing startup, which recently received the FDA’s first-ever approval of an AI diagnostic tool for sepsis, uses AI to tailor healthcare to an individual’s biology. Transmissionstarted by Bashir and one of his students, applies a data-driven approach to fast-paced acute care environments, ushering in a new era of precision medicine.

Alums have paved the way for these startups to continue to revolutionize the commercial landscape of computing and digital transformation. In addition to Siebel and Krishna, U of I alums include:

  • Steve Chen and Jawed Karim, co-founders of Youtube
  • Marc Andreessen and Eric Bina, who wrote and co-founded the first graphical browser Netscape
  • Martin Eberhard, co-founder of Tesla
  • Russell Simmons and Jeremy Stoppelman, co-founders of Yelp
  • Max Levchin, Luke Nosek and Yu Pan, co-founders of PayPal
  • Jerry Sanders III, co-founder of advanced micro devices

While these and many other alums are changing the world, they are also ensuring that AI is used responsibly and ethically. For example, UIUC’s Center for Just Infrastructures seeks to create justice in everyday system infrastructures. U of I faculty are members of the US AI Safety Institute Consortium (AISIC), a Dept. of Commerce initiatives that support the development and deployment of safe and reliable AI. The university is also part of AI Alliancea collaboration between leading technology developers such as IBM and Meta, healthcare entities such as the Cleveland Clinic, and other notable higher education institutions to advance open, responsible AI innovation.

As we stand on the precipice of an AI-driven future, the University of Illinois is a beacon guiding advances that will reshape our world. The Midwest AI powerhouse is not just a regional leader but a global influencer, shaping the trajectory of AI innovation for years to come.

Disclosure: Wilkins is the founder and CEO of Omax. The University of Illinois Grainger College of Engineering is an Omaxn Collaborator.

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