Computing Power and Data Drive Artificial Intelligence Advances (UF Explore)

Computing Power and Data Drive Artificial Intelligence Advances

Not so long ago, a scientist might say she could never have too much data. Even today, in a world drowning in data, it is better to be data-rich than data-poor.

But data is not knowledge.

Although data has been called the new oil, a precious resource, finding the relevant in the midst of the irrelevant is a task too big for mere mortals. It takes supercomputing, says University of Florida research computing director Erik Deumens, to turn data into knowledge.

“That’s where artificial intelligence comes in,” Deumens says. “We’ve been in the age of big data for 20 years now, and the problem is an overwhelming amount of data. How do we sort it, find the correlations, figure out what it all means? Sometimes the data is so complicated and diverse, the human brain just cannot grasp it.”

When you ask around campus who scientists are collaborating with on the AI and machine learning front, one name crops up frequently: Alina Zare.

Zare’s Machine Learning and Sensing Lab stays busy developing algorithms to automate analysis of data from a wide range of sensors, including ground-penetrating radar, LiDAR and hyperspectral and thermal cameras. In the lab, two post-docs, 17 Ph.D. students, two master’s students and a cadre of undergraduates work on projects with collaborators from agronomy, psychology, the Florida Museum, horticulture, entomology, ecology and a host of other computer scientists, both on campus and at other institutions.

José Principe, the director of the National Science Foundation-funded Center for Big Learning, says achieving human-level intelligence using engineering and computer science methodologies is a realistic challenge that will just take time. He agrees with Zare that despite advances, computer-human interaction should be synergistic.

“We know how to teach computers to use data to make decisions in well-defined domains. We can teach machines to recognize images, speech and sound. But there are many other areas that are beyond the current capabilities of AI,” Principe says.

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