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Human Ecology part of chancellor's initiative to innovate around AI, other global issues

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As the campus leader in human-centered design, the School of Human Ecology is proud to join the College of Engineering and the College of Letters & Science in leading a campus-wide effort to tackle some of the greatest research challenges of our time, starting with artificial intelligence (AI).

This pursuit is part of the historic Wisconsin RISE (Research, Innovation and Scholarly Excellence) Initiative, recently announced by Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin. Human Ecology’s commitment to improving the lives of children, families, consumers and communities will be a vital research perspective as UW–Madison pursues new, safe and ethical applications for AI.

“The future of AI is here, and with it comes an urgency to deploy human-centered design to understand how people adapt to and leverage these technologies,” says Soyeon Shim, Elizabeth Holloway Schar Dean of the School of Human Ecology. “Human Ecology has been leading the human-centered design initiative, which will add value to the campus-wide RISE AI Initiative because addressing complex questions requires an ecological approach that puts people at the center.”

The initiative builds on the university’s strengths, including its broad disciplinary range and expertise in key areas, and will ensure dedicated focus and funding so the university has the infrastructure and support necessary to make transformative discoveries and translate them into real-world impact. Wisconsin RISE also builds on UW–Madison’s successful track record of connecting and collaborating with communities and industry to forge solutions.

The field of AI is filled with extraordinary possibilities for improving the human condition, but it carries with it a concerning set of risks that require thoughtful attention to ethics and security. UW–Madison has foundational expertise across multiple research disciplines to address these realities. Making it the first area of focus will propel the university to a new level of capacity, featuring both the core scientific dimensions as well as the human-centered implications of AI.

University faculty, staff and students are already unlocking new applications for AI in disparate arenas — in medicine and materials science, in agriculture and communications, among many others — to answer hard questions and discover new possibilities in their research. UW–Madison researchers have employed AI to improve the diagnosis of genetic disorders, help farmers detect disease in their crops before it spreads, and to predict new materials based on the properties that would be most useful.

Over the next three to five years, RISE will accelerate the growth of UW–Madison’s network of AI innovators, adding up to 50 new faculty positions at all levels across campus to complement regular hiring already planned in AI and AI-adjacent areas.

Wisconsin RISE stands to more than double campus investment in AI and related fields than could otherwise have been achieved. New AI-focused faculty will join schools, colleges, centers, institutes and other units across campus.

Alongside AI, the initiative will also launch cross-campus environmental sustainability efforts and a renewed commitment to fostering entrepreneurship.

See more details about the initiative at rise.wisc.edu.

A version of this story was originally published by University Communications.