NJAI Summit attracts global audience — and retains its key attendees all day

Officials from the U.K. the Netherlands, Taiwan and a host of other key locations around the globe attended the NJAI Summit on Thursday in Princeton. So did the executive director of the UAE Ministry of Artificial Intelligence — believed to be the first country to create such a position.

It was an example of how New Jersey is out in front of the AI revolution — and how the global attraction efforts of Choose New Jersey are paying dividends in many ways.

Choose New Jersey CEO Wes Mathews said his organization reached out to nearly a dozen countries — and had conversations with representatives from many that were unable to attend.

Not that the event, which drew more than 600, needed to send out save-the-date notices. Princeton University President Chris Eisgruber said the university has been receiving calls and emails from around the country and around the world since the event was announced.

The event, which went from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., featuring nearly a dozen presentations and keynote addresses as well as numerous networking opportunities, kept many of its key attendees throughout — including Gov. Phil Murphy.

With a daily schedule that is overflowing with opportunities and requests, the governor usually slides in and out of a big event, often delivering an address and then going to his next stop. Not this time. Murphy was in the front row for most of the presentations — and stayed throughout.

Tim Sullivan, the CEO of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, one of the sponsors of the day, said the governor’s interaction was a big plus, as it showed the state’s commitment to the AI Hub it is creating to a crowd that drew top members of the AI community from around the country.

Higher ed get-together

The event drew key leaders from approximately two dozen institutions of higher education in the state, including the presidents of the state’s four R1 research institutions (Princeton, Rutgers University, Stevens Institute of Technology and New Jersey Institute of Technology) as well as the school that soon will be (Rowan University) — as well as numerous community colleges.

Eisgruber said the group was so big that they had a quick get-together during the first networking break.

“There’s huge excitement over this,” he said.

Steve Reynolds, the CEO of the Independent Colleges and Universities of New Jersey (and a Princeton alum) said: “This is all about the Wayne Gretzky line of trying to go where the puck is going. I want to learn about all the opportunities so our schools can be ready.”

Brenden Richards, the provost at Rowan College of South Jersey, in his presentation at the event, detailed how schools at the community college level will play a key role as they will serve as a training ground for the AI workforce.

Fairleigh Dickinson University President Michael Alvatroni said the future is now.

“We’re looking at the future of education and realizing that the way we teach, the way we learn, the way we engage has to change because the times around us are changing quickly,” he said. “So, we’re here to learn what that looks like and how to get ahead of it because the wave is coming. It probably is already here.”

Future of conference

Officials from the state and Princeton were overwhelmed with the response toward an event that was only publicly announced less than three months ago.

And while there certainly will be a second NJAI Summit, Eisgruber said the school is not looking to make grand plans about the next version — though a multiday event certainly feels possible.

Like AI itself, Eisgruber said the school wants to see how things develop — and be ready to react as needed.

“This is a conference that is at capacity and beyond,” he said. “We wanted people here; it was really important that people be present in person, but we had more demand than we could possibly meet for this conference. And we expect there will be (a number of) people who are submitting RFI (that) is even beyond those who are gathered here today.”

Eisgruber said the scale of this event is as important, as is the ability to scale additional events.

“I want to leave the room to be nimble around (how) we do that going forward, and not bake things into the schedule,” he said. “I think the one message that that other non-computer scientists and I can take out of the morning with confidence is: Things are going to be changing in ways that we cannot anticipate.

“We need the structures in this initiative that allow us to be responsive, but that also allows us to be nimble.”

Quote of the day

“I would say we’re just at the beginning of a journey that has accelerated tremendously in the last 15-18 months. We should also remember, even though AI has been around for a long time, the acceleration is still at an early stage, and, (when it comes to) applying AI into all aspects of our lives, we’re still on maybe page two of chapter one of the book on AI.”

— Thierry Klein, president of Nokia Bell Labs Solutions Research