Opinion: It’s time to promote responsible AI development to better serve New Yorkers

We need to make AI research affordable for nonprofits and schools, so that Big Tech companies won’t have a monopoly on this transformative technology.

Anton Petrus/Getty Images

The answer to whether we should be excited or afraid of artificial intelligence is “Yes.” The dramatic rise of AI has captivated New Yorkers’ imaginations, and every week seemingly brings a new development in the field. But one thing is becoming clear: we must ensure AI development is responsible, and we cannot leave that in the hands of private companies alone. If we want AI to be safe and to be used for the promotion of public good, it is imperative that we make it affordable for nonprofits and schools to conduct research.

Empire AI is going to do just that. In January, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced a consortium of public and private universities that will come together for AI research that was previously only available to Big Tech companies. The plan is to combine the astonishing research power of our state’s top universities – Columbia, Cornell, New York University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the City University of New York and State University of New York – and build a state-of-the-art AI computing center right here in New York.

Right now, access to this kind of computing power is prohibitively expensive and difficult to obtain. As a result, private companies have been cornering the market. In New York, only seven of the state’s more than 1,300 AI organizations are operating as not-for-profits; the rest are privately owned, for-profit companies.

Fixing this imbalance is remarkably simple. Advanced AI research requires specialized computer chips, the most famous of which are known as GPUs. Researchers can buy these GPUs, but they require a large upfront cost. So instead, most researchers “rent” access to them through a cloud computing company like Google, Amazon, or Microsoft. While “renting” is more flexible, it also gets very expensive. Empire AI charts a different path, with the state helping universities buy GPUs upfront and share them across their research teams, drastically lowering their ongoing costs.

This will enable researchers at each university to do more research with each dollar of grant funding they receive. It will also provide them with the tools necessary to apply AI research in ways Big Tech may not consider. AI has the ability to make complex medical breakthroughs, improve prediction of catastrophic weather events, enhance safety and efficiency in transportation and so much more. Fueled by the cutting-edge research that will be performed at Empire AI’s state-of-the-art computing center, the potential for innovation and progress will be endless.

Empire AI is a proven model. In 2009, Massachusetts founded the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center, a consortium of universities that established a shared data center. While theirs was not specifically focused on AI, it followed a similar financial model: the state government put in a little upfront funding, but since then the computing center has been self-sustaining, while massively decreasing the costs for universities to do research. If Massachusetts can do it, New York can do it better.

Additionally, Empire AI will give New York students better access to this important and growing technology. It will make it easier for universities to recruit top professors to the state and help bridge the technology career gap, where minorities and women occupy a markedly smaller share of technology careers. And those students and researchers may go on to create companies that further expand New York’s economy.

Every major player in the tech field agrees that AI is set to have a huge impact on our world. The question that remains is what kind of impact it will have. It is up to us to decide. At this critical juncture, there are two options before us. We can either let the future of AI be dominated by Silicon Valley and private interest groups, or we can get ahead of the curve and establish New York as the global leader for responsible AI innovation. Two out of three New Yorkers agree: it is time to put the power of AI in the hands of the people.

While we should be both excited for and worried about AI, the one thing we cannot do is bury our heads in the sand. Let’s take action to build a future for all New Yorkers.

Alex Bores is an Assembly member representing the east side of Manhattan. Clyde Vanel is an Assembly member representing Queens Village and Cambria Heights. He is the chair of the Assembly Subcommittee on Internet and New Technology.

NEXT STORY: Opinion: New York needs an ‘all of the above’ approach to affordable housing development