Empire AI would establish a state-of-the-art AI research center to...

Empire AI would establish a state-of-the-art AI research center to serve the entire state and shape the future of artificial intelligence. Credit: AP/Michael Dwyer

New York is synonymous with progress. From canals to microchips, our state has always been on the front lines of innovative technology. In January, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced a new initiative that will build on that legacy and position us as the national front-runner in artificial intelligence (AI) research for the public good. But it is critical that we act now, and that the proposal be included in this year's budget if we want to seize this opportunity before another state beats us to it.

Known as Empire AI, this proposal is the first of its kind anywhere across the globe. It would establish a state-of-the-art AI research center in Buffalo to serve the entire state, jump-start collaboration between our state’s leading universities, and shape the future of AI — possibly the most consequential technology of our lifetime. SUNY’s four university centers — Stony Brook University, the University at Albany, Binghamton University, and the University at Buffalo — along with many of our state’s leading private universities will all be partners in and benefit from this extraordinary opportunity.

Empire AI will be funded by over $400 million in public and private investment, including $275 million from the state and more than $125 million from founding institutions like NYU, Columbia, and Cornell. By including it in the upcoming budget, our legislators will be nourishing a network of technological collaboration that surpasses any other state, giving top researchers at our colleges and universities a massive competitive advantage. We will attract talent from across the world and transform existing industries as we create new ones — while putting safety and the public good first.

At SUNY, we are already making great strides in AI innovation. Faculty at Stony Brook are working to fight climate change, researchers at Binghamton are seeking advancements in mental health interventions, UAlbany teams have dedicated themselves to improving cybersecurity, and Buffalo researchers are developing AI tools to help students with disabilities learn.

The most significant impacts in technology come when universities find ways to work together. Hochul’s proposed consortium will do that for New York. By bringing together our leading universities, we will be able to acquire the computing resources needed to explore the full range of possibilities AI offers at a transformative scale. Each university will have an opportunity to pioneer safe, equitable, and accessible AI research and development that will benefit every corner of New York’s economy.

There is a natural trepidation surrounding projects of this magnitude, especially when they involve a technology with which most of us are unfamiliar. But New York has successfully completed projects like this before. Decades of steadfast commitment and support created a state-of-the-art nanotech complex in Albany that transformed the semiconductor industry.

Empire AI follows the same model — a focus on academic partnerships to develop the next generation of technology. This shared resource enabled the industry to do something which otherwise would not have been possible, and now upstate New York is the place to be for semiconductor research and development. Empire AI will do the same thing for AI technology.

When we look back at this period in history, we will want to say we did everything we could to harness the power of this nascent technology, and turn it into a force for the public good and an engine to drive New York State’s leadership. With Empire AI, we have that opportunity in front of us. Let’s not waste it.

This guest essay reflects the views of John B. King Jr., chancellor of the State University of New York.


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