UC Berkeley’s RISELab awarded $10M grant for artificial intelligence research, innovation

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The National Science Foundation, or NSF, has awarded UC Berkeley’s RISELab the Expeditions in Computing award, a $10 million grant to be used over the next five years for the lab’s research in areas such as artificial intelligence and machine learning.

RISELab’s work focuses on open-source algorithms and platforms to make real-time decisions, according to Ion Stoica, RISELab director and campus computer science professor. He added that these computing systems must be explainable, intelligent and secure.

The grant was given to two other projects, one based at the University of Chicago and the other at Rice University. These two projects have multiple partner institutions, so UC Berkeley’s team is the only grant recipient that is based in just one university.

“(The grant is) a great honor because it means the NSF perceives RISELab as a game-changing lab,” said Raluca Ada Popa, assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science, or EECS, and RISELab co-founder. “We try to change the way things are; we try to make technology that can make a drastic difference.”

Stoica said he thinks RISELab received the grant because of the importance of the problems the lab works on, the team’s credibility and its track record in previous projects, such as those in AMPLab.

The same researchers who make up RISELab previously worked in AMPLab, which was also supported by the NSF. The lab did a lot to popularize the study of data science, said Fred Chong, University of Chicago computer science professor and lead principal investigator for Enabling Practical-Scale Quantum Computing, another of the grant recipients. He added that RISELab’s work is very topical, and it pursues the kind of interdisciplinary research that the NSF should support.

The grant will improve the way RISELab conducts its research, according to Popa. RISELab was funded primarily by corporations, and it worked with 12 industry partners including Google, Microsoft and Capital One. She said government funding is more significant because it can be allocated for more than a year — the NSF grant spans five years.

“Longer-term (funding is significant) because it allows us to push for harder problems that extend longer than a year,” Popa said. “It enables us to pursue more risky research. … We don’t have to be careful with what we do.”

According to campus EECS and statistics professor and RISELab co-lead Michael Jordan, the grant will also enable the lab to innovate at a level that is competitive with industry but in a more academic style that allows for interaction between faculty and students. Popa said the grant money will be used in part to fund graduate student involvement in RISELab’s research.

Jordan said he thinks of RISELab as building a new field of engineering, because the work the researchers do is human-centric, meaning they are trying to get humans and computers to interact.

“The importance of the field is based in making decisions,” Stoica said. “This is transforming industries and our lives.”

Contact Sri Medicherla at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @sri_medicherla.