Artificial intelligence (AI) and cybersecurity are the branches of computer science seeing the most activity in 2021, with significant resources being made available on the national level and in higher education.
In July, the U.S. National Science Foundation announced the establishment of 11 new NSF National Artificial Intelligence Research Institutes, building on the first round of seven institutes funded in 2020. The combined investment of $220 million expands the reach of these institutes to include a total of 40 states and the District of Columbia.
The institutes are focused on AI-based technologies that will bring about a range of advances: helping older adults lead more independent lives and improving the quality of their care; transforming AI into a more accessible “plug-and-play” technology; creating solutions to improve agriculture and food supply chains; enhancing adult online learning by introducing AI as a foundational element; and supporting underrepresented students in elementary to post-doctoral STEM education to improve equity and representation in AI research.
Led by NSF, and in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Google, Amazon, Intel and Accenture, the National AI Research Institutes will act as connections in a broader nationwide network to pursue transformational advances in a range of economic sectors, and science and engineering fields — from food system security to next-generation edge networks.
“In the tradition of USDA-NIFA investments, these new institutes leverage the scientific power of U.S. land-grant universities informed by close partnership with farmers, producers, educators and innovators to provide sustainable crop production solutions and address these pressing societal challenges,” said USDA-NIFA Director Carrie Castille. “These innovation centers will speed our ability to meet the critical needs in the future agricultural workforce, providing equitable and fair market access, increasing nutrition security and providing tools for climate-smart agriculture.”
The new awards, each at about $20 million over five years, will support 11 institutes spanning seven research areas:
Free Workforce Pathways
On the cybersecurity front, the CyberSkills2Work Program was created in response to the national cybersecurity workforce shortage by a coalition of 10 institutions designated as National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cybersecurity (NCAE-C). The NCAE-C designation ensures that each institution meets rigorous standards. Led by the University of West Florida, the coalition will establish a nationally scalable and sustainable cybersecurity workforce program to rapidly expand the number of qualified cybersecurity professionals. Each institution offers free cybersecurity workforce pathways that prepare participants for specific cybersecurity work roles aligned with the NICE Cybersecurity Workforce Framework. Participation in the program will prepare the learner with nationally recognized credentials and job placement assistance to get the learner quickly into the workforce.
CyberSkills2Work is an alternate pathway to a cybersecurity career. Because of the shortage of work-ready applicants, the cybersecurity industry has recognized the need for a rapid-cycle training program in addition to the traditional four-year bachelor’s degree route. There are both in-person and online pathway options available to learners. The program is focusing recruitment efforts on veterans, and those in either military or first responders’ jobs who are transitioning to civilian life.
Each of the 10 coalition institutions has developed training pathways in direct response to employers’ needs and works with employers to hire the pathway graduates. Employment opportunities will target nationally designated critical infrastructure sectors including finance, defense, and energy.
Participating NCAE-C Coalition Team institutions are the University of West Florida (lead institution), Augusta University, Dakota State University, Eastern New Mexico University – Ruidoso, Florida International University, Metropolitan State University (St. Paul, Minnesota), San Antonio College, University of Houston, University of South Florida – Cyber Florida and University of Texas at San Antonio.
Mark Arend has been editor in chief of Site Selection magazine since 2001. Prior to joining the editorial staff in 1997, he worked for 10 years in New York City at Wall Street Computer Review, ABA Banking Journal and Global Investment Technology. Mark graduated from the University of Hartford (Conn.) in 1985 and lives near Atlanta, Georgia.