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$340,000 grant to help department with artificial intelligence research

A $340,000 national grant was awarded to the New Mexico State University Department of Computer Sciences to assist in future research and projects intended for topics dealing with artificial intelligence (AI), specifically related with research on the planning and development of intelligent software agents.

New Mexico State University students Jessica Gutierrez, left, and Ryan Paskadi, center, assist Michele Nishiguchi, associate professor of biology at NMSU, in her lab. Nishiguchi will serve as the mentor for the two students in the new Undergraduate Research Scholars program.

The grant is from the National Science Foundation (NSF), said Enrico Pontelli, professor of computer science at NMSU's College of Arts and Sciences. Pontelli and Son Cao Tran, the research project's leader and associate professor of computer science, worked for the past 10 years preparing and researching for this grant.

"The eventual goal is to develop methodologies and software systems to build intelligent agents to act like humans," Pontelli said. The first example which comes to mind for many is robots; however, this research extends much farther. For example, computer software may one day exist to accommodate its user's preferences when planning a vacation; every detail would be accounted for from ordering the round-trip plane tickets to securing the rental car after arriving at the individual's destination. Tasks such as these would not have to be done manually, but instead would be handled by computers. This would help accelerate the productivity, for instance, of travel agents, Pontelli said.

Tran said the research done as a result of this grant will apply to a variety of disciplines such as biology, engineering and robotics, to name a few. Computer programs used by biologists have in most cases been created by biologists and not computer scientists or software engineers, Pontelli said. The findings of these studies could help improve workflow without an individual having to perform computer tasks manually or do other routine tasks by hand.

"The result of this grant will provide us the tools to make advancements in our area. It will put NMSU on the map," Tran said. There are three doctorate students and potentially a fourth who will be working closely with Pontelli and Tran in writing their dissertations on AI topics. The NSF grant will be used for the next three years.

"Receiving this grant is a sign that NSF is recognizing that NMSU has talent and good things going," Pontelli said.