System Bits: Dec. 18

Stanford’s AI report; autonomy and brain probe; mosquito repellent.


AI studies at Stanford

Language processing is a leading area in artificial intelligence research, Stanford University reports. “We’re trying to inform the conversation about artificial intelligence with hard data,” says Yoav Shoham, professor of computer science, emeritus, adding, “Language is the ultimate frontier of AI research because you can express any thought or idea in language. It’s as rich as human thinking.” The university just issued its second annual report on AI technology, which is available here. One section of the report is devoted to progress in the field of natural language processing for AI purposes. Stanford’s Human-Centered AI Initiative keeps tabs on worldwide developments in AI. The AI report’s steering committee includes representatives of SRI International, MIT, the McKinsey Global Institute, and Harvard University.

Illinois focuses on autonomy, brain chemistry

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign provided $2.1 million in funding to the new Center for Autonomy, part of the Coordinated Science Laboratory. The university’s College of Engineering is providing $2.1 million in matching funds meant to recruit new faculty in the robotics field. The Center for Autonomy is focusing on five application areas – agriculture, health care, manufacturing, national defense, and transportation. “We have achieved some measure of autonomy already,” said Geir A. Dullerud, the W. Grafton and Lillian B. Wilkins Professor of Mechanical Science and Engineering, who is the director of the new center and also affiliated with the CSL. “However, there’s a difference between a self-driving car that works most of this time and a self-driving car that works all of the time. When it comes to safety-critical activities, we need to be assured that autonomous systems will function in the intended way.” The center is funded through UI’s Investment for Growth program.

Geir E. Dullerud

Separately, the National Institutes of Health’s BRAIN Initiative provided $3 million in funding to an interdisciplinary team of researchers drawn from ECE ILLINOIS, the Department of Bioengineering, and the Department of Chemistry. The team will develop a silicon-based platform for monitoring a range of neurochemicals in the brain, using a highly sensitive neural probe, with high spatiotemporal resolution and minimal tissue damage. The team will take in researchers in the university’s Micro and Nanotechnology Laboratory, Materials Research Laboratory, Micro- and Nanomechanical Systems Laboratory, Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, as well as the School of Chemical Sciences. 

“This project holds a promise to make a strong impact on our understanding of the brain since the developed instrumental platform will allow monitoring concentration gradients of various neuromodulators and drugs from precise brain location,” says Yurii Vlasov, Founder Professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering, who is also affiliated with the Beckman Institute and the MNTL. “This could enable advances in fundamental systems neuroscience, as well as accelerate development of new treatments for neurological diseases.”

UC-Riverside startup gets funding for mosquito repellent

Sensorygen, a University of California-Riverside startup led by Anandasankar Ray, a professor in molecular, cell, and systems biology, received $50,000 in seed funding from Vertical Venture Partners in a competition among UC entrepreneurs. Ray’s lab ran 500,000 chemicals through AI software to isolate desired properties; the team found six chemicals that occur naturally and blended them into a sweet-smelling, non-toxic repellent to keep mosquitos away from people. “We extensively test our natural chemicals to prove that they work as well as the existing synthetic chemicals. We have found that nearly every large corporation wants their products to be safer and as natural as possible to meet the preferences of today’s consumer,” said Sensorygen CEO Tom Stone. There were 18 finalists in the funding competition. Sensorygen was one of three winners splitting the $150,000 in prize money. FarmSense, another startup with UC-Riverside roots, was a runner-up in the competition and was invited to make a direct pitch for private funding from Vertical Venture Partners.

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