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Hochul names UB home for Empire AI consortium

Gov. Kathy Hochul stands at a podium during visit to UB, Jan. 26, 2024.

Gov. Kathy Hochul announces that UB will be the home for the proposed Empire AI consortium during a visit to campus on Friday. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki

By TOM DINKI

Published January 26, 2024

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“This initiative … will ensure that New York State is the place we can put this kind of computing power in the hands of students and professors and the geniuses who are ready to win this race. ”
Gov. Kathy Hochul

Buffalo was the world’s first electrified city, with widespread streetlights in the late 1800s that earned it the nickname “City of Light.” And now, Gov. Kathy Hochul has declared Buffalo — and specifically UB — the home of this century’s great technological innovation: artificial intelligence. 

Speaking Friday at the Center for the Arts, Hochul made it official that the university will be the site of her proposed statewide AI consortium, Empire AI, which will include construction of a state-of-the-art artificial intelligence computing center to be located at UB. “We want to make sure New York State is the capital of AI development … but I need a home for this supercomputer that’ll power the innovation all over our state. And I’m proud to announce that the home will be right here at SUNY Buffalo,” Hochul said. “This initiative … will ensure that New York State is the place we can put this kind of computing power in the hands of students and professors and the geniuses who are ready to win this race.”

Empire AI, which aims to put the state at the forefront of the AI revolution, is part of Hochul’s 2024-25 budget proposal and would be funded by more than $400 million in public and private investment. It was first announced during the governor’s State of the State address earlier this month, with UB named as the potential site.

President Satish K. Tripathi introduced the governor to an audience of more than 200 community leaders. He thanked the governor for officially naming UB the statewide location. (Read the UB news release on the governor's announcement.)

“We are delighted that the governor is recognizing UB’s longstanding national and international leadership in AI and data science with this momentous designation, which will make UB — as the home of Empire AI — a premier resource center for AI research and innovation,” Tripathi said in remarks released after Hochul’s announcement.  

President Tripathi is congratulated following AI Hub announcement, Jan. 26, 2024.

President Satish K. Tripathi is congratulated by Mark Schroeder (far right), commissioner of the state Department of Motor Vehicles, after Gov. Kathy Hochul announces UB will be the home for the Empire AI consortium. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki

UB has been a worldwide leader in AI for nearly 50 years, including creation of the first autonomous handwriting recognition system that has saved the U.S. Postal Service billions of dollars since the 1990s. 

Today, more than 200 faculty members are currently engaged in AI research, developing the technology to do everything from treating brain aneurysms to assisting first responders during natural disasters. Last year, UB received a $20 million grant from the National Science Foundation to establish the National AI Institute for Exceptional Education, which will use AI to diagnose and help children with speech and language disorders.

UB also has robust computing infrastructure, including its Center for Computational Research, located on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus in downtown Buffalo. 

All possibilities remain open on where to house Empire AI’s supercomputing center, including both a new building or expansion of an existing campus building as the specifications for AI supercomputing infrastructure are specially designed, Tripathi told reporters after Hochul’s announcement.

He added that UB and its Empire AI partners, which would include SUNY and CUNY, as well as private universities and foundations, are committed to developing responsible AI and harnessing their collective expertise in service of social good. 

UB is already making efforts to create AI safeguards as the technology continues to evolve. The Center for Information Integrity combats misinformation generated by AI, including deepfakes. UB researchers are even finding ways to reduce bias in the deepfake detection algorithms themselves.

When asked by reporters about the potential negatives of AI, Hochul pointed to the positive example of UB senior computer science major Holliday Sims, whom she highlighted in her State of the State address. Sims is developing methods to use AI to improve the child welfare system.

“There are thousands of ways that you can [use AI to] improve people’s lives,” the governor said, adding she also wants safeguards on AI. “We’re using it as a catalyst for jobs and innovation, and to solve society’s biggest problems.”

The governor said she hopes her announcement at UB will be remembered as the start of a new era of technological innovation. 

“Someday people here will look back and say, ‘I was there,’” she said. “‘I was there when the future came right before our eyes.’”