Artificial Intelligence (AI) promises to improve our lives in many ways, but most AI innovation is centered in coastal cities, far from the challenges of rural America. This makes it difficult for AI technology hubs to study and design for the distinct challenges and opportunities of rural America, where over 20% of the U.S. population lives. For example, people in rural counties are more likely to overdose on opioids, to be obese, or to smoke. The number of infants who die before reaching 1 year of age is nearly 50% greater in rural areas than in cities. Moreover, rural Americans face significant challenges with access to the technology upon which AI depends, including internet, computers, and smartphones. Unfortunately, there is a real danger that AI will not just leave rural America behind but do significant harm: automation may replace 25% of jobs in rural counties within the next decade, and many rural areas do not have easy access to educational and vocational institutions to re-train for new jobs. This project will plan an AI Institute hosted in the Midwest and committed to creating Artificial Intelligence technologies that significantly improve rural health, wellness, and resiliency. Solving major technical and societal challenges and creating sustainable, ethical, socially accepted, and successful applications of AI will require an interdisciplinary approach that tightly integrates studies across many fields. This project will bring together experts around five major technical pillars (Trustworthy AI, Interpretable AI, Human-Centered AI, Ubiquitous AI, Ethical AI) and three major domains (Rural Health, Rural Wellness, Rural Resiliency) in a series of workshops to build collaborations across the Midwest that will lay the foundation for an Institute proposal after two years. The workshops will also engage rural community members to understand their needs and challenges.
This project will begin to address the urgent need to study AI for improving health, wellness and resiliency in rural communities, to address the unique technical challenges of these applications, and to work to ensure that rural Americans share in the benefitsâ€”and are not casualtiesâ€”of the changes that AI is about to usher in. The project will investigate new AI techniques that will improve the accuracy, security, interpretability, and reliability of AI, which will benefit countless applications beyond health. The project will also create education modules for community partners who wish to engage in university research, form partnerships that educate and inspire the greater community on challenges and opportunities of AI to address pressing problems facing rural America, and developing new AI-related academic partnerships across the Midwest. The workshops will engage community members to not only help the project understand the needs of rural citizens, but also to educate the public about AI applied to issues of health, wellness, and resiliency, as well as to bring researchers into rural communities to experience the challenges they face first-hand. Moreover, the project will work towards building capacity in the form of an AI-educated workforce in the Midwest, and investigating the ethical and societal impact of AI-driven technologies to inform policymakers on how best to promote and regulate AI for health, wellness, and resiliency in rural America.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.