Building the AI Infrastructure at WPI

New task force eyeing AI infrastructure improvements for workplace, research, and learning spaces

Artificial intelligence has captured the world’s attention, but it’s not new to the WPI community—the school has been steeped in AI-related teaching, learning, and research for decades. A newly formed group of faculty and staff is now looking at how to invest in computing infrastructure to ensure the university stays at the forefront of AI for years to come. 

Part of the AI initiative at WPI, the AI Technology Task Force, led by Chief Information Officer Vijay Menta, is charged with ensuring that the school’s computing infrastructure can handle the increased demand.

“We are a STEM school that has been leading in this area for many years, so it is a natural progression toward AI,” Menta said. “We want to continue to lead in this space, and serve both existing and future students, researchers, and faculty members in this AI era.”

The task force focuses on how infrastructure improvements will facilitate AI integration in three areas: research, teaching and learning, and administration. That might mean a virtual assistant to help staff transcribe meetings or develop reports, assistive classroom devices, or chatbots that guide prospective students through the application process.

“Vijay brings the right knowledge and skills to lead this collaboration,” said WPI President Grace J. Wang, Ph.D. “Working with faculty governance and in consultation with faculty and staff experts, the task force will develop a comprehensive AI technology enhancement strategy that is aligned with WPI’s academic, research, and operational goals. The task force will assess, analyze, and strategically plan for our emerging research, education, and administrative needs, with emphasis placed on security and ethical considerations.”

Menta said the university currently has the capacity to meet the various demands on its technology infrastructure, but it’s important to plan for the future. For example, students applying to WPI’s new master’s in AI program will likely have additional high-powered computing needs, he said. 

“We’re on the cusp of a great tech inflection,” Menta said. “The AI Technology Task Force is basically saying ‘it’s great that we’re going to have all these tools. But how do we make them work for us, and how do we make them work together?’”

As it continues its work, the AI Technology Task Force will examine ways to encourage interdisciplinary collaboration among WPI’s four schools, both to ensure seamless integration of AI technologies and to maximize the impact of infrastructure investments across all disciplines. Also included in the task force’s charge is a focus on security and privacy, and assisting with the establishment of guidelines and policies for ethical AI practices within the WPI community by working with other subcommittees.

Vijay Menta
We’re on the cusp of a great tech inflection. The Technology Task Force is basically saying ‘it’s great that we’re going to have all these tools. But how do we make them work for us, and how do we make them work together?’
  • Vijay Menta
  • Chief Information Officer
Vijay Menta

Menta is joined on the task force by Sia Najafi, executive director, academic and research computing group; James Kingsley, director of high performance computing and faculty support; Ermal Toto, director of scientific data, applications, and web development; and LeeAnn LeClerc, chief information security officer. Representatives from all four schools are also involved: Craig Shue, computer science professor and department head from the School of Arts and Sciences; Diane Strong, professor and department head from The Business School; Berk Sunar, professor of electrical and computer engineering; Nitin Sanket, associate professor of robotics engineering, from the School of Engineering; and Seth Tuler, associate professor from The Global School.

Menta said developing training for new technology will also be a crucial component of any long-term plan and added that feedback and engagement will be welcomed as WPI plans for long-term investment in the AI space. He said that with building on the current robust training and tutoring program already in place, the university plans to introduce more courses related to AI very soon, geared toward students to assist with their coursework, and for any community members who want to learn the basics of AI. He said he expects to provide periodic updates to the university community moving forward.