AI hub at Princeton aims to ‘unleash a new century of game-changing discovery’

Partnership aims to harness school’s renowned brainpower and state’s innovative spirit to actively shape future of artificial intelligence

After she laid out three key reasons why Princeton University is such a perfect fit to serve as a hub for research in artificial intelligence — noting the school’s foundational and interdisciplinary strengths, combined with its longtime desire to use science for the betterment of society — Provost Jennifer Rexford offered anecdotal evidence to why the campus already serves as such a hub.

“The excitement about AI is palpable on campus,” she said. “We see this in the phenomenal attendance at any event on campus that has both ‘A’ and ‘I’ in it. We don’t even have rooms on this campus big enough to hold everyone. It’s fascinating to see lines and lines of people waiting to get in to make sure they can get a seat, or to join backup rooms where we put them.

“We see it in students who flock en masse to any course related to AI on both the undergraduate and at the graduate level. And you see it in the dissertation work of our Ph.D. students, in the senior theses of our undergrads who are using or advancing AI in the work that they’re doing.”

Princeton better get ready: That excitement for AI — and the rush to gain knowledge — is about to grow exponentially.

On Monday, Gov. Phil Murphy and Princeton President Chris Eisgruber announced plans to formally create a hub for AI activity and research on the Princeton campus.

Run in conjunction with the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, the hub will aim to leverage state funding and private-sector partnerships to advance the state’s leadership in AI, catalyze innovation in AI technologies, drive job growth and economic development across the region, promote rapid and responsible development of the field and guide governments and public entities on AI implementation.

“With today’s announcement, New Jersey, alongside Princeton University, is poised to shape the future of this revolutionary field and unleash a new century of game-changing discovery,” Murphy said.

Murphy noted all of the familiar innovation milestones connected to the state’s past — from Thomas Edison and the light bulb to Bell Labs and the transistor — but he said this hub is about New Jersey’s maintaining a place in the front row of the future.

“If I were a betting man, I would still stack New Jersey against any of our competitors any day of the week,” he said, rattling off the reasons why: talent, location and a thriving innovation ecosystem.

“Many states out there would settle for even one of those core strengths,” he said. “Here in New Jersey, we’ve got all three.”

How this AI hub will grow is unclear — though it certainly will be seeking more academic and corporate partners from around the state and around the world.

Eisgruber announced that Princeton and the state will cohost a conference on AI at Princeton on April 11, which will aim to bring together leaders from academia, industry and government to discuss the most pressing AI issues of the day.

Like AI, the potential for the hub seemingly is limitless.

“This strategic framework recognizes the promise and societal implications of artificial intelligence, as well as the university’s unique capacity to meet these challenges,” Eisgruber said. “Working to establish this hub for AI will further our efforts in this important area, while strengthening the regional ecosystem of innovation, and advancing Princeton’s broader teaching and research mission.

“We look forward to continuing to collaborate with our local communities, our higher education partners and, of course, the great state of New Jersey, as we pursue further innovations and discovery in AI and work to establish this home.”

Beth Noveck, the state’s chief innovation officer, said the initiative will help shape the state for generations.

“With the establishment of this AI hub, we are not just anticipating the future — we are actively shaping it,” she said. “This partnership is a testament to our belief that, when we harness Princeton’s renowned brainpower and New Jersey’s innovative spirit, there’s no problem too complex, no challenge too great.

“Together, we embark on a journey where every problem encountered is a step closer to a solution.”

A solution that will help build the economy, not shrink it, said Tim Sullivan, the CEO of the EDA.

“Today is a pretty bold and historic declaration that New Jersey intends to lead the pack and lead this revolution and not follow,” he said.

Eisgruber said he’s thrilled that Princeton will be there every step of the way, saying the idea of harnessing change for good and entrepreneurship are what the school is all about. He personally thanked the governor for giving the school the opportunity to be in the service of the nation, humanity and the state of New Jersey.

“This is a partnership that’s going to make a difference,” he said.