‘It’s going to change our world’: Local lawmakers hear $5M request for Artificial Intelligence Initiative at UW

    The University of Wyoming is requesting $5 million from the state this year to develop an Artificial Intelligence (AI) Initiative.

    “This is something that is very, very future-looking and very aspirational but (also) very essential,” UW president Edward Seidel told the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Appropriation Committee during a meeting this week, calling AI “perhaps the most transformative technology in history.”

    “Every single market will be transformed by this,” Seidel said. “We have students who will be entering the university next year, and by the time they graduate, the world will look very, very different. (AI) is everywhere.”


    UW asked that the state provide half of its funding request ($2.5 million) on a recurring basis so the university can hire six new faculty with AI expertise to incorporate the new technology into fields like engineering, agriculture and business – “things that really matter to the state of Wyoming,” Seidel said.

    The recurring funding would also be used to appoint research scientists in AI “to support projects with faculty, and to work on industry projects,” UW said.

    The research scientists “would be able to work with our faculty to achieve additional funding from federal agencies,” Seidel said, explaining that “almost every agency in the country, in terms of research agencies, is shifting their funding towards AI applications.”

    “This will enhance our ability to bring in new revenues,” he said.


    The rest of the money UW asked for ($2.5 million) was requested on a one-time basis.

    Seidel said UW would use that funding to hire more staff and scientists for the AI Initiative, with the understanding that those employees would write grants for external funds to support their positions.

    The one-time monies would also pay for a “small computing facility for AI industry partnerships,” he said, noting that his team has already interviewed “at least 10 companies who have written letters of support (saying) that they want to work with us … to make sure they can maintain the competitive edge or keep up with the competition.”


    ‘So far-reaching’

    After hering from Seidel, Wyoming Rep. Lloyd Larsen, R-Lander, wondered whether the list of industries UW had identified as focus areas for the Initiative might have to be expanded in the future.

    “I know so little about this whole area,” Larsen said. “But it is so far-reaching on everything now. … Why not (implement it) in all the other areas?”

    Wyoming Sen. Tim Salazar, R-Riverton, echoed Larsen’s comments about knowing “very little about (AI) – other than it’s going to change our world very, very quickly.”


    “You have to engage, or we’ll be left behind, clearly,” Salazar said, asking Seidel whether the university has discussed an AI “mission statement” or “list of principles” that should be followed “when these discoveries come out of UW” and “are applied in our society – because that’s going to happen.”

    Seidel replied that the faculty members hired as part of the AI Initiative would help UW craft those kinds of guidelines.

    “We need to build the expertise in order to help answer those questions,” Seidel said. “If we have people who are broad thinkers in AI, they can work with (UW) to think about what are best practices, what are the ethics of these things.

    “These are largely open questions right now, and there are new questions coming up almost every day.”

    He pointed, for example, to the New York Times’ recent lawsuit against Chat GPT “over the use of their articles” to develop AI technology.

    “There’s a whole question about what is ethical, what is the business model, how is it going to all change, how will courts rule on this,” Seidel said. “We have to be thinking in a very broad sense, and we would like the university to be the go-to place for the discussions.”

    UW initially proposed requesting $7.5 million in one-time funding for the state for the AI Initiative, Seidel noted, but Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon thought the smaller amount would be more appropriate initially.

    “We do believe that the governor’s request would allow us to really get started on this,” Seidel said. “We also would anticipate at the next biennium coming back and to report on our progress on this and potentially to ask for some additional funds.”


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