New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and Princeton President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 announced plans to create a collaborative “hub” for research and innovation in artificial intelligence (AI) at a news conference in Chancellor Green Dec. 18.
Murphy, citing Thomas Edison and Bell Labs as exemplars of New Jersey’s inventive heritage, said the state is again “poised to shape the future” by establishing “a new home for the world’s boldest and brightest to pioneer breakthroughs for the betterment of humankind.”
Eisgruber, who said Princeton has been among the leaders in AI and machine learning discoveries, envisioned a community of researchers, industry leaders, startup companies, and others that will “focus on the development and innovation of AI techniques, applications, and hardware, as well as the societal implications of AI, such as policy, education, and workforce development.”
The event, which drew an audience of elected officials, University administrators, and leaders of several state agencies, focused largely on aspirations, providing few details about the timeline, organization, and funding of the venture. Murphy, in an interview after the announcement, said the state and the University chose to publicize the effort before a specific structure was in place “because we want to basically plant a flag and say, artificial intelligence is here to stay.”
“I suspect this will be, in the next weeks and months, a process of both talent and entities — companies, startups — sort of beginning to coalesce in this hub,” Murphy added.
The next major gathering on the hub’s calendar will be an April 11 conference on campus, co-hosted by the University and the state.
“The excitement about AI is palpable on campus,” Princeton provost Jennifer Rexford ’91 said in her opening remarks at the announcement event. “We see this in the phenomenal attendance at any event on campus that has the letters ‘A’ and ‘I’ in it — we don’t even have rooms on this campus big enough to hold everyone. … And you see it in the dissertation work of our Ph.D. students and the senior theses of our undergrads, who are using or advancing AI in the work that they’re doing.”
To explain the promise of AI, Murphy cited a recent example in which chemists used a machine learning model to devise a process for creating oxygen on Mars. The research, which spanned a few weeks, would have taken about 2,000 years of human labor, he said.
“When I think about this story, my first thought that came to mind was, ‘Forget about Mars — what about right here on Earth?’” Murphy said. “What could this technology mean for the millions of people living with chronic disease or for the generations of families that have been heartbroken by a devastating medical diagnosis? Or for the billions of people who face an uncertain future due to rising sea levels or extreme heat?”
Murphy, noting Nokia’s recent commitment to relocate its Bell Labs research operations to New Brunswick, said Route 1 will be “a corridor of innovation,” an idea that Eisgruber supported in his comments after the news conference.
“One of the really exciting and transforming things about AI is that it’s a place where the connection between fundamental research and applications is very fast and very direct,” Eisgruber said. “And that means that our faculty are very interested in those applications. It means that they can work very closely with firms and private partners. And as the provost and I emphasized in our comments, it means our faculty are interested in spinning out companies that we hope will stay here in the state of New Jersey.”