AI Mission and Strategy for the NY Academy of Sciences

Challenge / Opportunity

The erosion of the individual’s economic and political value is being driven, simultaneously and paradoxically, by the exact same factor – technological disruption - that can help societies address climate change, preserve biodiversity, promote good health and well-being, expand life expectancy, improve the quality of life in cities, provide for food security, reduce inequalities, universalize access to education, plan the future of work and job security, and create affordable and clean energy. Simultaneously, disruptive technology is being employed by state and non-state actors to manipulate electoral systems and spread misinformation.


No technology will be more disruptive in the coming years than artificial intelligence (AI). Science and society must find new ways to come together and use AI (and all of its components including big data, expanding computing power and smarter algorithms) to invert current global trends and restore the promise of peace and prosperity for all.  However, if algorithmic systems are to play this role in the growth of society, then science and society need to more inclusively define and provide the skills and ethical standards for how people, beliefs, behaviors, institutions, and environment are represented in the AI community. 


For over two decades, the New York Academy of Sciences (the Academy) has played a role in nurturing talent in computer sciences and has commissioned and published articles, organized events, and convened symposiums dedicated to AI. However, recent technological breakthroughs in AI, growing technological competition between China and the U.S. and the rise of New York City as an AI Hub has brought new importance to the Academy’s work in this field. With the recent appointment of Hon. Jerry MacArthur Hultin as Chair of the Academy’s Board of Advisors, in November of 2019, and the transition to a new President and CEO, Nicholas Dirks (finalized in June 2020) there came an opportunity to revisit the Academy’s existing AI-related activities and explore whether a global and comprehensive AI program was needed.

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Click here for the public version of this report.
Intervention / Solution / Approach

Hon. Jerry Hultin invited André Corrêa d'Almeida in the fall of 2019 to design and implement a roadmap to help the Academy identify its role in the AI field and define its new AI mission. A 12-month plan was designed and its implementation kicked off in January 2020. The first stage involved the delivery of three high-level roundtables, drawn from experts throughout the wider AI ecosystem. Thought-leaders from academia, business and government came together in the spring of 2020 to discuss the challenges and opportunities associated with AI in their fields and offer their thoughts on what meaningful role the Academy could play to support AI research and the deployment of the technology for the common good. 

This blueprint is the second stage of the process. Linking the outcomes of each roundtable with external research, it identifies thematic challenges facing the wider AI community. The report’s findings are clear: despite historic levels of interest and investment, significant obstacles remain to the wide-scale and responsible deployment of AI. In the U.S. today, acute talent shortages and a lack of applied skills amongst graduates, middle-managers, and programmers limit the potential of AI and with it, U.S. competitiveness. Further, a lack of collaboration between domain experts, AI practitioners and other scientific disciplines impedes the development of integrated technical solutions. These technological hurdles are compounded by opaque algorithms, legal ambiguities, unrepresentative data sets, and a homogenous AI workforce.


This blueprint, and the 25 recommendations organized around five main areas provided by André Corrêa d'Almeida and Adam Ingle, in reference to these challenges, will be used as input for the Academy's development of an AI strategy as part of the strategic planning process being initiated this summer, with input from across the staff, the board, and key stakeholders as well as outside experts. The recommendations are made after extensive research of the broader AI ecosystem and are the product of the roundtables’ discussion, which the authors have distilled here as the suggested course of action which will allow the Academy to assume a unique and valuable role in the growth of ethical AI here in New York and beyond.