Intel, Dell launch AI incubator lab at Arizona community college

Students will use the first-of-its-kind lab to develop data collection, coding, and other AI-related skills. They'll also study the social and ethical issues of AI technology.
Written by Nate Delesline III, Staff Writer

Intel and Chandler-Gilbert Community College in Arizona recently announced the opening of a new on-campus artificial intelligence incubator lab. 

The lab is part of the AI for Workforce Program. Launched in 2020, the program's goals include helping students get workforce ready by equipping them with hands-on AI knowledge, skills, and experiences. Dell is also a corporate partner in the AI for Workforce Program.

The new lab has $60,000 worth of AI software and workstations, Intel said in an announcement. Students at Chandler-Gilbert Community College (CGCC), which is part of the Maricopa County Community College District, can use the lab's tools and technologies in courses like introduction to machine learning and AI for business. 

MCCCD interim chancellor Dr. Steven R. Gonzales stated in an announcement that the district was the first to partner with Intel on the AI for Workforce program in 2020. 

"Within the last two years, we have been able to see our students gain new AI skills, and we are proud to have our first graduating class from the AI program this spring," he said. "This lab is critical to providing the necessary tools for their education, and we are appreciative of Intel, Dell, and AZ Commerce for the designated space so our facility and students can thrive."

Interest and demand high for AI skills

Students focus on a range of projects in each class, said Habib Matar, the lead instructor of CGCC's AI program. 

Recent projects included:

  • A text message spam filter powered by machine learning
  • A grading app for Scantron-style fill-in-the-bubble test sheets that works by analyzing a smartphone photo instead of running the paper test sheets through a scanner
  • A self-navigating drone that can fly inside buildings to assist first responders with search and rescue operations
  • An app that can identify medicinal pills and tablets
  • A leaked password detector
  • A license plate reader designed for a home security system

"As an instructor, it's amazing when I kind of let go of the reins and see what students come up with," Matar said. 

He said three students are on track to graduate this spring from the two-year program. Two students earned an AI certificate and the third earned an associate's degree. 

"I'm looking forward to seeing them walk," Matar said. 

Carlos Contreras, senior director of AI and digital readiness at Intel, echoed that sentiment. 

"The technology is super powerful. And I think for the students, their imagination is just taking them to these really interesting use cases," Contreras said. 

Today's students, he continued, will enter a technology workforce where every organization will focus in some capacity on applying AI to solving problems and creating value for organizations. 

"Whether it's banking or manufacturing, the ability to go back to your job and apply this technology to solve a problem or create value is really at the core of what we need to do in this country to re-skill around this new technology," Contreras said.

AI adoption outlook

We're already at the point where nearly every organization already has someone — or even an entire team — focused on using AI to drive business innovation and revenue, Matar said.

According to a survey by PwC, the pandemic accelerated the adoption of artificial intelligence and data analytics. Organizations predicted they'd likely use AI for key tasks such as:

  • Managing risk
  • Preventing fraud
  • Assessing and protecting against cybersecurity threats
  • Helping employees make decisions
  • Automating routine tasks

But using the power of AI requires responsibility. One key point in AI education, Contreras said, is the importance of incorporating ethics into the design and application of artificial intelligence technologies. 

"We want people to take a step back before you create an application and ask these critical questions about bias, about the ethical use of technology," Contreras said. 

That's why ethics is one of the first topics in the AI education program.

SEE: Ethical dilemmas in computer science: Why should you care?

Contreras said companies adopting AI to power business decisions is evidence that there are growing career opportunities for people with AI skills. Part of the AI for Workforce Program's goals is getting ahead of that curve. 

"We can't wait until the demand is here to build capacity for students to get these skills," he said. "You almost have to be a little ahead of the bubble, the hiring bubble."

According to CGCC, people with an associate's degree in computer science may have career opportunities as computer and information research scientists, computer systems analysts, software developers, quality assurance analysts, or testers. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states the median salary for software developers was $110,140 as of May 2020.

AI incubator network expanding

As of late April 2022, 31 colleges in 18 states offered the AI for Workforce Program. Contreras said the goal is to make the program available in all 50 states by 2023.

In pursuit of that goal, the program recently announced a collaboration with the American Association of Community Colleges, Intel, and Dell to support the program's expansion. Intel and Dell are funding the Artificial Intelligence Incubator Network. 

This initiative aims to build AI incubator labs nationwide by tapping into the knowledge and network of America's community colleges.

Dell said in a joint announcement that the Artificial Intelligence Incubator Network initiative supports the company's goal to make a positive impact on 1 billion lives by advancing health, education, and economic opportunities. 

"This partnership between AACC, Intel, and Dell gives us an opportunity to meet this goal," said Leslie Harlien, Dell's vice president of state and local government and education strategy. 

"By lending our technical expertise to the AACC AI Incubator Network, we will help community colleges develop virtual and on-campus artificial intelligence in education labs," Harlien added. "This will prepare the AI-ready future workforce and provide skills and training that will lead to real-world jobs."

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