Funding Opportunity: NSF Announces Second Solicitation to Support National Artificial Intelligence (AI) Research Institutes

The National Science Foundation (NSF) announced its second solicitation to support national artificial intelligence (AI) research institutes through the National AI Research Institutes Program.  This solicitation is a joint activity with the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science & Technology Directorate (S&T), the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).  Unlike in 2019, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is not participating in the 2020 solicitation.  Additionally, and new for this solicitation, the following industry partners are also participating: Amazon, Intel Corporation, Google, and Accenture.  The purpose of the National AI Research Institutes Program is the creation of AI Research Institutes to enable long-term payoffs and address larger-scale challenges in use-inspired and foundational AI research.

Unlike the 2019 solicitation, NSF is not currently accepting proposals for planning grants.  Applications for full institutes submitted under this solicitation must focus on one or more of the following themes:

  • “Theme 1: Human-AI Interaction and Collaboration;
  • Theme 2: AI Institute for Advances in Optimization;
  • Theme 3: AI and Advanced Cyberinfrastructure;
  • Theme 4: Advances in AI and Computer and Network Systems;
  • Theme 5: AI Institute in Dynamic Systems;
  • Theme 6: AI-Augmented Learning;
  • Theme 7: AI to Advance Biology; or
  • Theme 8: AI-Driven Innovation in Agriculture and the Food System.”

Please note that only two themes are continued from the first solicitation: AI-Augmented Learning and AI-Driven Innovation in Agriculture and the Food System.  The other six themes are new for the 2020 solicitation.  Proposed Institutes must be multi-disciplinary, composed of multiple organizations across all geographic regions of the United States working together to create new research capabilities, and serve as a nexus point for collaborative efforts around the continuing growth of AI.  Institute proposals are expected to communicate how they will perform use-inspired AI research, advance foundational research in AI, and actively work to develop a diverse and well-trained future AI workforce.  The requirement that Institutes be composed of multiple organizations across the United States collaborating on new research capabilities is new while the others are continued from the first solicitation.

The overarching vision for this program is to advance AI to address societal issues such as “personalized healthcare; enhanced national security; improved transportation; and more effective education.”  As set out in the 2019 update to the National Artificial Intelligence Research and Development Strategic Plan and the President’s Council of Advisors for Science and Technology Recommendations for Strengthening American Leadership in Industries of the Future, future advances in AI require long-term investment to drive progress.  Sustained investment through the AI Research Institutes will “accelerate the development of transformational technologies” to advance innovations in AI.   NSF will hold a webinar on this solicitation in September 2020, though the exact date of the webinar has yet to be announced.

Due Date: Applications are due at 5:00 p.m. submitter’s local time on December 4, 2020.

Estimated Award Amount/Size: NSF anticipates making 8 cooperative agreement institute awards with an estimated funding amount of $16 to $20 million each per year for four to five years.

Eligibility: U.S.-based and accredited two-and four-year institutions of higher education and non-profit, non-academic organizations are eligible to apply.  An organization may submit no more than two proposals as a lead institution and an individual may only be listed as PI or co-PI on one project team.  The organization proposal limit is new for the 2020 solicitation while the individual proposal limit is the same as in the institute track in the 2019 solicitation.  Additionally, proposals that request funding through NIFA are open to U.S. based agricultural experiment stations; colleges and universities; university research foundations; other research institutions and organizations; national laboratories; federal agencies; private organizations or corporations; or individual US citizens, nationals or permanent residents.

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