New Legislation to Advance Research, Education for the Future of U.S. Innovation

By Gabriela Cruz Thompson, director of university research and collaborations at Intel Labs

Congress is making important strides toward increasing U.S. competitiveness in R&D, with the Senate recently passing The United States Innovation and Competition Act of 2021 (USICA) and the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology just voting yesterday to advance the National Science Foundation for the Future Act. Both bills provide a welcome focus on boosting research funding for applied science and technology as well as education in STEM. Importantly, both bills would require NSF to continue extending cooperation with the private sector and other federal and state agencies, helping to foster more innovation from a wider number of sources.

Once these bills are reconciled and a final bill signed into law, we at Intel look forward to amplifying our decades-long alliance with the NSF, which has helped advance the United States’ position as a world leader in ICT. Together, we co-fund fundamental research performed by leading academics through various programs, with Intel offering in-kind contributions such as the latest industrial technologies and products, use-inspired challenges, and examples from everyday life to students and faculty.

Our partnership with NSF began when we co-founded the Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC), the world’s leading non-profit, industry-government-academia microelectronics research consortium. The corporation is comprised of 20 semiconductor companies, three government agencies, and over 100 universities; its focus is to fund academic research directed by industry and government members.

In recent years, Intel’s relationship with the NSF has expanded into jointly funded collaborations and programs that have generated technology breakthroughs and fueled innovation in the market. These include the recent NSF-led multi-sector partnership to form the Resilient and Intelligent Next-Generation Systems (RINGS) program, an exciting new initiative in partnership with NIST, DoD, and eight other private companies to accelerate research in areas that will improve the resiliency of emerging Next Generation wireless and mobile communication, networking, sensing, and computing systems.

Intel also participates in NSF’s new Convergence Accelerator program, launched in 2019 to fund multidisciplinary research, including harnessing the data revolution and the future of work using a unique partnership model with industry, foundations, government, and non-profits. Under this model, Intel is engaged directly with academics and funded by NSF for the first time.

In addition, through the Intel Capital division, Intel invests in leading disruptors and aids entrepreneurs in building companies that grow and penetrate new markets. Intel has facilitated the transition of research into production technology in multiple cases, working initially with professors on research funded by NSF-Intel programs and then supporting the launch of an associated company with an investment from Intel Capital.

We have several other programs with NFS that are either underway or about to get started. These include the A.I. Institute for Optimization (Summer 2021-2025), which brings together researchers in machine learning, operations research, theoretical computer science, and other related fields to develop powerful new tools for solving previously “impossible” large-scale problems, and Machine Learning for Wireless Networking Systems (MLWiNS) (2020-2022), which accelerates fundamental, broad-based research on wireless-specific machine learning techniques.

Intel also supports the STEM provisions of this legislation. We have known for a while that the U.S. has a significant shortage of STEM workers. At the same time, students from low-income communities are struggling to finance their education and secure their livelihoods. Increased funding in STEM is needed to support these students and to scale graduate research fellowships, teacher and post-doc scholarships, and PreK-12 education.

Especially important is allocating funds to attract students from two-year colleges and expand NSF’s reach beyond the tier-one research institutions. We also need more partnerships between top-tier research institutions, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), minority-serving institutions, and tribal institutions. Intel is eager to collaborate with such a network of institutions and the diverse community of students this kind of network would bring together.

Intel is leading the way in these areas of STEM education. For example, in 2020, the Maricopa Community College District and Intel announced the first Artificial Intelligence Associate Degree Program in the United States and we are working to extend the curriculum to other colleges across the country. The NSF could augment a program such as this in a way that would reach far beyond its current footprint.

Another initiative is The National GEM Consortium, a network of corporations, government laboratories, top universities, and research institutions, which the NSF also supports. The program is fundamental to Intel’s strategy to increase diversity in the STEM workforce. Through it, Intel provides financial support to minority students who want to pursue graduate education, invites students to Intel for their required internship, and provides mentorship through their studies. Since 1991, Intel has sponsored over 400 students through the GEM Consortium, and, in the last five years, Intel has hired over 100 students.

The R&D, STEM and additional provisions in these bills will allow industry to create and commercialize innovations more efficiently than ever before and grow the talent appropriate to meet the needs of the workforce of the future. This will go a long way toward ensuring that we work as a team to create a better world and push the boundaries of what is possible today and into the future.