When it comes to artificial intelligence, a mind is a terrible thing to waste

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In a bid to make sure no brainpower is overlooked, the Army has established research partnerships with historically Black and minority-serving colleges and universities. The topics are artificial intelligence and machine learning. With details on how the initiative works and what the Army hopes to get, the outreach program manager at the Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Research Laboratory, Dr. Val Emery, joined Federal Drive with Tom Temin.

Interview transcript:

Tom Temin: Dr. Emery, good to have you on.

Dr. Val Emery: Hello, how are you? And thanks for having me.

Tom Temin: Tell us about this program. This is aimed at the faculty of these types of colleges, and what is it you’re going to do with them?

Dr. Val Emery: The Army Faculty Immersion Program is the brainchild of the former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Research and Technology Dr. Phil Perconti. In February of 2021, the Acting Secretary of the Army hosted a HBCU technical forum announcing initiatives that were designed to get minority serving institutions more engaged with Army science and technology.

Tom Temin: This area of artificial intelligence and machine learning has become something of a strategic national issue. And it sounds like perhaps the historically Black universities and colleges and the minority serving institutions weren’t participating as fully as they could.

Dr. Val Emery: Absolutely. The emphasis of this, the Army has designated priority technology areas. Artificial intelligence and machine learning is one of the priority areas of emphasis. This particular topic provides an opportunity for a broad group of minority serving institutions to effectively participate, submit proposals to participate with Army scientists and engineers and major colleges and universities in a novel research project

Tom Temin: Now faculty immersion program, does that mean that faculty that are chosen go to the Army, say at the research center, and work alongside Army researchers? What does it mean to be immersed?

Dr. Val Emery: The program has three phases. The first phase, the faculty at a minority serving institution will submit a proposal detailing their interest in artificial intelligence and machine learning. But also there will be an opportunity for the university to talk about what kind of support they will be providing this faculty person when they came back to the school. We’re trying to build capacity in this particular area. So by having faculty trained or developed, they will bring this new capacity or capability back to the university and expand curriculum by immersion. What the first phase will be the proposal phase, they’re selected, they will come to an Army laboratory and spend 10 weeks, a minimum of 10 weeks, in that Army laboratory working, learning the Army AI/ML infrastructure and learning the areas of emphasis for us. The second phase will be they will spend a semester at a major research institution, majority institution, working with a research faculty there to learn more about the academic side of how to develop curriculum, how to write strong proposals, how to establish a laboratory and ensure that the Army can get benefit from the research that’s going on on campus. And the third phase will be with the assistance of that majority institution faculty, as well as with the Army researcher, a research project will be identified that faculty person from the minority institution will return to their home institution and conduct a fully funded research project in a topic area that they collaborate on.

Tom Temin: So in some ways, this is a three way partnership. That is with majority institutions, the Army and the minority serving institutions.

Dr. Val Emery: Absolutely. It’s to expand the ecosystem, to build networks. because historically, we go to the same folk in academia, because they have the known capacity or capability. We’re trying to broaden the aperture to allow more opportunity to take advantage of the human resources or human capital we have across the country.

Tom Temin: We are speaking with Dr. Val Emery, the Outreach Program Manager at the Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Research Laboratory. And in having the professors eventually go back to their home institutions to do a funded research project, is the intention that they would involve students at those institutions in the research., and thereby you’re in a sense educating the educators?

Dr. Val Emery: That is absolutely the focus. We anticipate that faculty having students or teaming with other faculty to broaden and expand the capabilities at their home institutions.

Tom Temin: And what kind of professors in the first place from the minority serving institutions and the historically black colleges and universities are you looking for? Do they have to be math professors and science? Suppose someone is teaching, I don’t know, the history of Flemish art, and they decide, well you know I’d like to do something useful for my country and maybe work with the Army on artificial intelligence.

Dr. Val Emery: The first criteria is that all of the faculty have to be US citizens. Second criteria is they have to be what’s classified as a junior faculty, in other words, not having more than seven years in teaching experience, and this way, we hope that they will grow into research and development at their institutions. With respect to the academic disciplines, if they have a capacity or capability on institutions to do AI/ML, artificial intelligence machine learning, it could be a computer scientist, a computer engineer, it can be an electrical engineer, a physicist. So a majority of the technical academic disciplines, there are potential applications for AI/ML in those departments.

Tom Temin: And what is the Army itself hoping to get?

Dr. Val Emery: The Army is hoping to get not only expanded research abroad and research in some of the areas that our events assist today. But also, there’s a potential for having new talent resources coming out of these institutions who may have an interest in collaborating with us. We’re building the network of academic partners. There is a potential that through some of these engagements, there can be some industry partners. So we’re trying to, again, expand the ecosystem of scientists and engineers that are familiar with Army science and technology. And the other piece of it is that we are trying to grow the bench from a US citizen standpoint because of national security implications.

Tom Temin: And we’ll put a link to where people can sign up to apply but tell us what the deadlines are and what some of the timelines here are.

Dr. Val Emery: Proposals are due from the faculty members, October 1, so we have a very short timeline from this interview for folk to participate. Once we receive the applications they will be evaluated by a team of subject matter experts. And the director of basic Army director of basic research and senior team member from the Army Futures Command will do the down-select and select the finalist faculty. And we hope to have the first faculty selected by January, and in an army laboratory by the summer. Hopefully by mid May, we will have someone coming to one of our laboratories, and all of the Army’s S&T infrastructure has the opportunity to participate in this program. So technical area of expertise can be very broad from the Corps of Engineers, the medical community, the Army’s physical sciences community, so all of the Army’s S&T infrastructure are participating in this initiative.

Tom Temin: Dr. Val Emery is the Outreach Program Manager at the Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Research Laboratory. Thanks so much for joining me.

Dr. Val Emery: Thank you for having me.

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