For Murphy, Eisgruber, NJAI Summit is big step — and right step — for New Jersey

Princeton president: ‘This is a bit of a leap into the unknown, but it is exactly the right thing to do’

Two hours into the inaugural NJAI Summit on Thursday at Princeton University, Gov. Phil Murphy and Princeton President Chris Eisgruber couldn’t help but gush at how well it was going.

“This is just unbelievable,” the governor started.

Eisgruber seconded that emotion.

“I’m having so much fun,” he said. “The content is fabulous and people from New Jersey are coming together in ways that would not otherwise have happened. The connections that already have been made are amazing.”

“Amen to that,” Murphy replied.

It was a moment of candor and camaraderie that Murphy and Eisgruber shared with ROI-NJ during a quick in-conference sit-down.

They talked about the people they had met — and the plans that were being put into place to ensure the AI Hub they are creating at Princeton will be for everyone in a state that is as well-positioned to be a leader in artificial intelligence as any other.

They talked about how the hub aims to work with businesses and other academic institutions.

They talked about how the event came about.

To be sure, Murphy gets credit for being the inspiration for the conference — an event that was a feature of the “AI Moonshot” announcement he made during his State of the State address in January. But the seed of the idea began months before that.

Murphy said the vision for the NJAI Summit dates back to early 2023, when he was leading a state delegation to Silicon Valley to meet with a number of leading AI figures.

Murphy said he was surprised to hear so many complaints about Northern California, issues they only put up with because of the talent in the area.

“That’s when the light bulb went off for me,” he said.

“I remember recounting that moment to (Eisgruber): I said, ‘There’s no reason why we can’t be an analog on the East Coast, if not internationally. We’ve got the talent, the location and the unparalleled research. There’s no reason we can’t claim our fair share of this.’”

New Jersey set the stage for doing all that and more Thursday.

The event featured eight presentations on how AI fits into the world (everything from engineering to education, workforce development to health care to sustainable energy and more) as well as an incredible keynote from Microsoft Vice Chair (and Princeton alum) Brad Smith.

Too much, too soon?

Not the way AI is evolving, Murphy and Eisgruber both said.

“This is a bit of a leap into the unknown, but it is exactly the right thing to do,” Eisgruber said, praising Murphy.

“The state of New Jersey has given us an opportunity to launch something when we don’t know exactly where it’s going to go. In some ways, that’s thrilling, and, some ways, it’s frightening. It’s a lot like AI.”

Princeton University President Chris Eisgruber, left, Gov. Phil Murphy, right, and ROI-NJ Editor Tom Bergeron share a laugh.

Murphy talked about how he feels AI presents so many possibilities for the state. He rattled off four:

“How do we change the world for billions and not just a few stakeholders, make the world a better place?

“How do we do it responsibly?

“How do we, as a state government, deliver our services to our 9.3 million residents in a smarter, faster and more efficient way?

The fourth, he said, is the economic development opportunity.

“This is about startup companies, translational research from the likes of Princeton into the real economy,” he said. “It’s talent, it’s job creation.”

It’s a legacy.

As Murphy inches closer to the end of his second term, that word will come up more and more. The governor, as he always has said, offered that he is more concerned about today.

He called the AI Hub another branding and marketing opportunity for the state, a way to again remind folks that New Jersey isn’t new to the innovation game — but that it practically invented it in this country.

That history was evident throughout the day. So many interactions were not initial introductions, but catch-up conversations.

For instance, Princeton Provost Jen Rexford could meet up with folks at her former place of employment: Nokia Bell Labs — to name just one example.

“We don’t start from a standing start as a state, and, certainly, Princeton does not start from a standing start,” Murphy said. “This is a natural for us. I just want to make sure that we seize the moment, and we couldn’t have a better partner.”

Eisgruber returned the compliment.

“The governor is mission-driven on behalf of the state of New Jersey,” he said. “That’s his legacy.”