National Science Foundation rolls out NAIRR pilot with industry, agency support

The pilot brings together research resources from multiple federal and industry partners and will serve as a “proof of concept” for the full-scale project, according to NSF.
The National Science Foundation building (Wikimedia Commons)

The National Science Foundation launched a pilot for the National Artificial Intelligence Research Resource on Wednesday, giving U.S.-based researchers and educators unique access to a variety of tools, data, and support to explore the technology.

The pilot for the resource, referred to as the NAIRR, is composed of contributions from 11 federal agencies and 25 private sector partners, including Microsoft, Amazon Web Services, NVIDIA, Intel, and IBM. Those contributions range from use of the Department of Energy’s Summit supercomputer to datasets from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to access for models from OpenAI, Anthropic, and Meta.

“A National AI Research Resource, simply put, has the potential to change the trajectory of our country’s approach to AI,” NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan told reporters on a call ahead of the launch. “It will lead the way for a healthy, trustworthy U.S. AI ecosystem.”

The idea for a NAIRR has been under discussion for some time as a way to provide researchers with the resources needed to carry out their work on AI, including advanced computing, data, software, and AI models. Supporters say a NAIRR is needed because the computational resources that AI demands aren’t often attainable for prospective academic researchers.


Katie Antypas, director of NSF’s Office of Advanced Cyberinfrastructure, underscored that need on the call with reporters, saying “the pilot is the first step to bridging this gap and will provide access to the research and education community across our country — all 50 states and territories.”

The launch comes ahead of a requirement in President Joe Biden’s Oct. 30 AI executive order for NSF to establish a pilot project for the resource within 90 days. According to an NSF release and accompanying call with reporters, the two-year pilot will serve as a “proof of concept” for the full-scale resource. 

Creating a pilot that would run parallel to a full buildout was among the options the NAIRR Task Force, which was co-chaired by NSF and the Office of Science and Technology Policy, presented in its implementation framework for the resource roughly a year ago. 

The pilot is divided into four focus areas: “NAIRR Open,” which will provide access to resources for AI research on the pilot’s portal; “NAIRR Secure,” an AI privacy- and security-focused component co-led by DOE and the National Institutes of Health; “NAIRR Software,” which will facilitate and explore the interoperable use of pilot resources; and “NAIRR Classroom,” which focuses on education, training, user support, and outreach.

Antypas said anticipated uses of the pilot might include a researcher seeking access to large models to investigate validation and verification or an educator from a community college, rural, or minority-serving institution who’s able to obtain AI resources for the students in their classroom.


When asked how resources are being vetted for the NAIRR, Antypas said there will be a process for datasets that become part of the resource. “We are going to be standing up an external ethics advisory committee to be providing independent advice on, you know, what are those standards? How do we develop those with a pilot?” Antypas said.

Quality of datasets came into focus recently after a Stanford report flagged the existence of child sexual abuse material on a popular AI research dataset known as LAION-5B. FedScoop previously reported that NSF doesn’t know if or how many researchers had used that dataset — it doesn’t track this aspect of principal investigators’ work — but highlighted the need for a NAIRR to provide researchers with trusted resources.

Among the support from industry, Microsoft is contributing $20 million in compute credits for its cloud computing platform Azure, in addition to access to its models, and NVIDIA is contributing $30 million in support, including $24 million in computing access on its DGX platform.

Some contributions are tied to specific uses. OpenAI, for example, will contribute “up to $1 million in credits for model access for research related to AI safety, evaluations, and societal impacts, and up to $250,000 in model access and/or ChatGPT accounts to support applied research and coursework at Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Serving Institutions,” according to information provided by NSF. Anthropic, meanwhile, is providing 10 researchers working on climate change-related projects with API access to its Claude model.

The list of partners could grow as time goes on. Tess deBlanc-Knowles, special assistant to the director for AI in the Office of the Director at NSF, noted on the call with reporters that the pilot came together on “a really ambitious timeline” and said “it’s important to note that this is just the beginning.”


deBlanc-Knowles said NSF hopes to bring on more partners and add more resources after the launch “so that we can serve more researchers, educators, and more places, and start to really make progress towards that bigger vision of the NAIRR of democratizing AI.”

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