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Training the Future AI Workforce in Troy, New York

Sept. 16, 2019
The city is creating an AI ecosystem in the form of an Artificial Intelligence Center of Excellence.

Good ideas always have interesting starting points.

As Bob Bedard, president of deFacto Global, was expanding his business offerings to include artificial intelligence (AI,) he looked at his surroundings and realized that Troy, New York was doing a lot of research in this area.

While private businesses such as GE’s Lighting Research Center, located in Troy, and area public educational institutions, such as Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and SUNY (Hudson Valley Community College in Troy were all engaged in this field, there wasn’t a coordinated research effort. 

“I could envision an opportunity to create an eco-system that could reach from Troy all the way to Albany,” explains Bedard. “We have the talent now and we have the potential to develop more in the future,” said Bedard.

Wanting to take an active role in bringing this vision to reality, Bedard approached a variety of parties who could benefit from a dedicated resource to AI and got buy-in. So, he created the Artificial Intelligence Center of Excellence, which is a two-million-dollar facility that will be located in downtown Troy.

The center has three main goals; creating and AI ecosystem, driving AI strategy which includes embedding AI in hardware and aligning area universities to the goal of creating a core competency in AI. 

The center has teamed up with a variety of companies, ranging from Fortune 500 to small companies. And educational institutions have joined the effort including, RPI, University of Albany, Siena, Hudson Valley Community College, Union College and others.  The area’s economic workforce development organizations are on board as well.

Perhaps part of the interest is based on the characteristic of the town, which has a long history of coming up with inventive ideas for industrial uses. In fact, in the early 1800s, the region was the second-largest producer of steel. That spirit has been reignited, says Bedard.  “Troy, like Brooklyn, is reclaiming its heritage and is also becoming a hip city with all of the amenities, that attracts younger workers.”

A large part of what attracts younger workers is career opportunities. The center will provide that as it will facilitate research, offer internships and support start-ups.  It aims to “foster the development of an AI-technology hub that will complement other industry hubs, including video gaming, nanotechnology and life sciences.”

Understanding the role of AI and how it will transform the workplace is central to the mission of the Center. “Often people think of AI as taking over jobs, or as a threat to humans, in general. We need to separate out that view of AI and focus on what it can do now which is improve productivity," says Bedard. "Over the past five years, I have seen the light go on as companies realize the potential of AI.”

In addition to productivity, Bedard says that AI will improve operational efficiencies, safety, skill development and job satisfaction.

Perhaps the job satisfaction will come from the fact that as robots take over the repetitive and less imaginative part of jobs, humans are then free to perform higher-value tasks. Much has been written about the collaborative nature of man and machine.

Of course, there is still the fear that automation will replace jobs, but a recent study from the World Economic Forum, “The Future of Jobs 2018,”  showed that taking into account jobs lost to AI and the new jobs that are needed, the growth of artificial intelligence could create 58 million net new jobs in the next few years.

Economically the effect of AI, as measured by a PwC survey is that IA, robots, and smart automation technology will contribute $15 trillion to global GDP by 2030.

Politicians are also jumping into the discussion and positioning the U.S. as the top source of all things AI. On Sept. 9, Michael Kratsios, who is also deputy assistant to the president at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said the U.S. has eight of the top 13 universities for AI. He also said the U.S. had more AI companies and spends more on venture capital funding on AI, than its competitors.

As AI continues it's ascent in the business world, Troy, and Bedard, have read the tea leaves correctly by positioning the area as a hub for AI. “The ultimate goal of this center is to drive economic growth and jobs,” says Bedard. “We want to aggregate AI research for this district and the state as a whole creating a network for this essential field.”

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