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San Diego Supercomputer Center Plays a Role in NSF’s New ICICLE Institute

Initiative to democratize artificial intelligence involves advanced cyberinfrastructure and researchers at UC San Diego

Published July 29, 2021

[Enlarge] Image depicts overview and scope of the ICICLE project.  Image courtesy of the Ohio State University

By Cynthia Dillon

While some areas of science know first-hand how cool artificial intelligence (AI) is, not all domains have had access to the technology. But, now, AI is on the verge of becoming accessible to more researchers with the AI Institute for Intelligent Cyberinfrastructure with Computational Learning in the Environment, or ICICLE. The new institute will focus on next-generation intelligent cyberinfrastructure that makes using AI as easy as plugging an appliance into an electrical outlet.

One of 11 new initiatives collectively funded with $220 million from the National Science Foundation (NSF), ICICLE, with its $20-millon share, is envisioned to result in AI-based technologies that bring about a range of advances—from helping better understand movement and behavior of animals, to creating solutions to improve agriculture and food supply chains, and supporting underrepresented students in kindergarten through post-doctoral STEM education to improve equity in AI research. It will advance “plug-and-play” AI across a wide range of domains, promoting the democratization of AI.

ICICLE specifically will develop intelligent cyberinfrastructure (CI) with transparent and high-performance execution on diverse and heterogeneous environments; for example, animals in forests, crops in farmlands or foods stored in warehouses. It brings together a multidisciplinary team of scientists and engineers, led by the Ohio State University in partnership with the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC), University of California San Diego, University of California Davis, Case Western Reserve University, IC-FOODS, Indiana University, Iowa State University, Ohio Supercomputer Center, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Texas Advanced Computing Center, University of Utah, University of Delaware and University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“Artificial intelligence is at a critical juncture for real-world applications that will benefit the planet,” said UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla. “Developing a transparent, open-access intelligent cyberinfrastructure not only will hasten viable solutions for many of society’s most pressing issues, but also will provide new economic opportunities for budding entrepreneurs. This important multi-institution, multidisciplinary collaboration will advance the democratization of AI and contribute to the social mobility of everyday people. We look forward to expanding our hub of knowledge builders and continuing our tradition of collaborative research with old friends and new partners.”

Initially, ICICLE is tasked with addressing complex societal challenges in the areas of smart foodsheds, precision agriculture and animal ecology, which will drive the institute’s research and workforce development agenda. This includes: 1) empowering plug-and-play AI by advancing five foundational areas—knowledge graphs, model commons, adaptive AI, federated learning and conversational AI; 2) providing a robust cyberinfrastructure capable of propelling AI-driven science (CI4AI), solving the challenges arising from heterogeneity in applications, software and hardware, and disseminating the CI4AI innovations to use-inspired science domains; 3) creating new AI techniques for the adaptation/optimization of various CI components (AI4CI), enabling a virtuous cycle to advance both AI and CI; 4) developing novel techniques to address cross-cutting issues including privacy, accountability and data integrity for CI and AI; and 5) providing a geographically distributed and heterogeneous system consisting of software, data and applications orchestrated by a common application programming interface and execution middleware. Overall, ICICLE will shore up next-generation AI cyberinfrastructure.

“It will transform today's AI landscape,” said Division Director of Data Enabled Scientific Computing at SDSC Amit Majumdar, principal investigator (PI) of the SDSC sub-award, who is charged with CI development and integration with research facilities. “SDSC and UC San Diego researchers are involved in various research topics including education and workforce development, knowledge graphs, adaptive AI, high-performance model training and more.”

Additionally, ICICLE’s advanced and integrated edge, cloud and high-performance computing (HPC) hardware and software CI components simplify the use of AI, making it easier to address new areas of inquiry. In this way, ICICLE focuses on research in AI, innovation through AI and accelerates the application of AI.

Notably, ICICLE is building a diverse STEM workforce through innovative approaches to education, training and broadening participation in computing that ensure sustained measurable outcomes and impact on a national scale—supporting a pipeline from middle- and high-school students to practitioners. As a nexus of collaboration, ICICLE promotes technology transfer to industry and other stakeholders, as well as data sharing and coordination across other NSF AI institutes and federal agencies. As a national resource for research, development, technology transfer, workforce development and education, ICICLE is creating a widely usable, smarter, more robust and diverse, resilient and effective CI4AI and AI4CI ecosystem.

“ICICLE will enable a transparent and trustworthy national infrastructure for an AI-enabled future, addressing pressing societal problems and enabling decisions for national priorities,” said PI and Professor and Distinguished Scholar of Computer Science at the Ohio State University Dhabaleswar Panda. “ICICLE will grow new generations of workforce and incubate innovative companies, with sustained diversity and inclusion at all levels.”

The 11 new AI Research Institutes add to the seven AI Institutes funded with $140 million by NSF in 2020. The AI Institutes, led by NSF in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA), U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Google, Amazon, Intel and Accenture, will act as connections in a broader nationwide network that will pursue transformational advances in a range of economic sectors, and science and engineering fields.