Amato participates in national security commission on artificial intelligence panel


Mike Koon, Grainger College of Engineering

Nancy M. Amato, Abel Bliss Professor of Engineering, CSL professor, and head of the Department of Computer Science at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, participated in a panel discussion of the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence (NSCAI) in Washington, DC on September 26.

[figure="" class="align-right" width="300"]Congress established the NSCAI in 2019 as part of the National Defense Authorization Act. The commission’s charge is to advance the development of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and associated technologies as it relates to national security and to more broadly maintain the United States leadership in AI research.

The working group, Maintaining Global Leadership in AI Research, which includes several high-ranking industry partners, convened Amato, a leading expert in artificial intelligence, and others to get a sense for the research and development ecosystem in the United States and solicit ways the academic/research community can work alongside governmental agencies to develop AI to advance national security efforts.

Amato notes that interest is growing with more and more talented faculty and students studying AI, data science, and computing gracing the halls of campuses across the United States. The growth of faculty and concentration of top students in CS departments has created a research ecosystem primed to make breakthroughs.  But she shared that there aren’t enough resources, in particular funding from places like the National Science Foundation, to match the demand and take advantage of this unique opportunity.

Amato believes that Americans need more ways to be trained in AI, computing, and data science throughout their careers. To that end, Illinois CS is working to create new entryways into computer science. One new program planned to launch in Fall 2020 will give professionals with bachelor’s degrees in other fields who decide they would like a career in a computer science field, a chance to complete a yearlong basic CS “Onramp” program as an alternative to a more expensive and less comprehensive boot camp. Those who complete the program can then enter a computer science master’s degree program at Illinois.

“It will in no way replace the breadth of a CS undergrad degree, but it will give them enough to enter our master’s program and be successful,” Amato said. “Even if they decide not to pursue a masters, it will make them better qualified than simply going through a boot camp.”

In her report to the panel, Amato emphasized that, because funding for basic AI research in the United States has not kept up with the demand, many researchers are abandoning academia for industry or for other countries, where AI funding is more easily accessed. She is recommending that the National Science Foundation and others change their funding model in this vital area.

In addition to funding, universities need other resources like expansive computational systems and relevant data sets to work worth with. She suggested that industry and universities could share these resources though the cloud.

Amato indicates that most electronics were not created with enough security in mind. She suggested that computer vision (beyond deep learning), robotics/automation and robust algorithms are areas that need to be addressed to keep America competitive and that privacy and security needs to be integrated into all aspects of AI and robotics.

“Using AI to provide more secure systems is still in its infancy,” she said. “That is a big challenge. It’s not a field of computer science that can be studied on its own.”

Overall, Amato shared a vision of real potential for the future.

“The message I wanted to make is that we’re getting the smartest students and a growing and talented faculty, and that if we had the right resources, we have the opportunity to do some really amazing things.” Amato said.