How Florida is looking to build the ‘nation’s first AI university’

The tech is embedded into the curriculum but the University of Florida is also scouting out new uses for it in campus operations and student performance.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

University of Florida Provost Joe Glover said the school is aiming to build the “nation’s first AI university,” using the technology in the curriculum and to help campus operations.

Glover said Chris Malachowsky, one of the original co-founders of technology company Nvidia and a graduate of the Gainesville-based university, offered officials at the University of Florida an AI-powered supercomputer “out of the blue” and asked what they would do with it.

One of the first things the school did to embed AI into its operations was build an engine to predict how well students would perform in what Glover called “critical gateway courses,” and whether interventions like coaching, tutoring or other assistance might be necessary.

Now the university is looking to embed AI into its campus security operations and predictive maintenance, and also use the technology to help build a digital twin of the campus.

Cheryl Martin, head of higher education at Nvidia, said so far those are the kinds of uses that a “typical industry” might have for AI, but with more than 30,000 students enrolled on its Gainesville campus, it can provide insight for others, including governments, on how to best use this emerging technology.

And it comes on the heels of a Deloitte report last year that noted the opportunities present in using emerging tech like AI, and to think of it as a “wise, experienced colleague” that could help support automation and help ease customer interactions.

The University of Florida also is embedding AI throughout its entire teaching curriculum, not just in traditional areas like engineering and computer science. The technology can help quickly find patterns in data, while Martin noted that its natural language processing abilities or image analysis could help find trends in documents relevant to majors in the arts and languages.

It all comes amid growing concerns about the United States’ shortage of workers with tech skills, something that is especially troubling at the state level and has led some groups to call for greater federal assistance.

Similarly, Glover said the U.S. has a “problem in building an AI workforce,” and that there are “not really a lot of strategies around to do this efficiently and at scale.” But simply by integrating AI into the curriculum and getting students used to the technology, he said that can help alleviate that worker shortage.

“We think we have stumbled on the right way to do this,” he said. “Just simply teach everyone AI across the entire university, or at least have given them the opportunity to learn about it, and then turn them out into the workforce.”

Various colleges and departments across the university quickly embraced AI as part of their curricula, Glover said. That has included the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, which is now educating its students on drones and robotics, as those technologies will be crucial for the future of agriculture.

Meanwhile, the College of Business is rapidly embracing educating students on financial technology, and Glover said that has extended to the College of Medicine, which is also teaching about the use of AI in medical fields.

Meanwhile, employers are coming to Florida’s campus looking for graduates with AI skills, so Glover said students are “beginning to understand that there is that demand and that they're going to benefit” by incorporating AI into their learning.

And with increased research funding available, both Glover and Martin said the possibilities of further AI integration are endless. That enhanced academic research funding comes partly from the CHIPs and Science Act, which also has the goal of creating regional technology innovation hubs to expand manufacturing beyond the country’s traditional tech powerhouses.

Already, Martin said a variety of federal agencies have expressed an interest in partnering with Florida on AI development, and with the new funding available soon, it is helping to “democratize” investment in research beyond the usual institutions.

Editor's Note: This story was first published on GCN. 

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