NSF Awards 28 Grants For Learning And Intelligent Systems

October 03, 1997

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a series of 28 new grants worth over $22.5 million for research in Learning and Intelligent Systems (LIS) -- a broad range of studies that could lead to rapid and radical advances in how humans learn and create.

Interdisciplinary teams of researchers from around the country will undertake the projects. Their combined efforts will help develop a deeper understanding of how learning occurs in humans, animals and artificial systems.

Researchers will also explore how to develop new learning methods that integrate linguistic, behavioral, biological, cognitive and educational approaches with new interactive, collaborative and multisensory technologies.

The grants represent the first leg of a three-component NSF investment in Knowledge and Distributed Intelligence (KDI).

"We have gained access to widely distributed sources of information, which is a major accomplishment for human civilization," said Neal Lane, NSF director.

"Access is one thing, however. Intelligently absorbing, refining and analyzing his information to glean useful knowledge is quite another. This is what represents the driving force behind NSF's efforts in KDI," Lane told a group at the National Academy of Sciences last week.

Researchers will try to understand and formulate solutions to such questions as: What kinds of knowledge or skills can actually be learned? How do humans learn? How do other living beings learn? Can artificial systems learn? What kinds of knowledge do they produce?

Six NSF directorates are collaborating on the LIS initiative, covering areas of engineering, computer and information sciences, mathematical and physical sciences, biological sciences, social and behavioral sciences and education.

"We are reminded by many historical examples that knowledge resides in different dialects, alphabets and character sets. Improving our access to this base of knowledge is a daunting, but exciting scientific opportunity," Lane said. The result of these efforts, he added, "would yield a resource whose value to our society, especially to future generations, truly would defy measurement."

In this first leg of the KDI process, researchers exploring LIS will tap into how learning is best accomplished through a combination of learning and research tools and experimental technology test beds.

"It is important to a society characterized by rapid changes in the complexity of human learning and information interactions that we find ways to more fully understand them, and support learning, creativity and productivity through natural and artificial systems," Luther S. Williams, NSF's assistant director for education and human resources, said. "The reasons for which we undertake these research initiatives are both practical and strategic to our society and economy," said Williams, who is the lead coordinator for this part of the KDI initiative.

Future research will explore integration of knowledge from different sources and the tools needed to model, simulate, analyze and understand complicated phenomena, as well as how to deal with massive volumes of data in real time.

* Projects "Biological Basis for Incremental Learning" and "Invention Strategies that Promote Learning" include investigators from University of Pittsburgh

** Project "Learning and Adaptation in the Primate Oculomotor System" includes investigators from Caltech.

*** Includes two projects - one is a Center for Learning Technology which includes investigators from the Chicago and Detroit Urban Systemic Initiatives (reform programs in math and science education at urban K-12 schools), and the University of Michigan.

**** The "Center for the Study of Tutoring" project includes investigators from Carnegie-Mellon University.


National Science Foundation

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