USC announces $1 billion-plus initiative for computing including AI, ethics and quantum computing

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EMBARGO: Thursday, May 4, 2023 at 11 am PT

KEYWORDS: artificial intelligence, quantum, generative AI, AI, human-centric technology, human-centric tech, future workforce, workforce of the future, blockchain, ethical AI, tech workforce

HED: USC launches $1B-plus initiative for computing including advanced computation, quantum computing, AI and ethics
DEK: The initiative includes opening a new School of Advanced Computing, enhancing educational opportunities in ethical computing for students across the university, advancing new research and expanding USC’s footprint in Silicon Beach, part of L.A. County’s growing tech corridor

By Paul McQuiston

USC President Carol L. Folt launched a $1 billion-plus initiative to expand and infuse advanced computing throughout the university’s programs and curriculum with ethics at its core. Grounded in responsible technology, USC will accelerate innovation with novel and robust educational and research opportunities across all disciplines.


“I want every student who comes through our programs, whether they are in science, business, the humanities or the arts, to have a solid grounding in technology and the ethics of the work that they do,” Folt said. “We will integrate digital literacy across disciplines to create responsible leaders for the workforce of the future.”

The Frontiers of Computing initiative is a major step forward on one of Folt’s moonshots for the university. A $260 million gift to USC jumpstarted the effort in 2019 when Folt said the university would advance and expand computing research and education across the university in a strategic and thoughtful way.

Under USC Frontiers of Computing, USC unites its multiple strengths in computer science and advanced computing. The initiative includes a new School of Advanced Computing that will serve as a nexus and incubator for advanced computation projects for students and faculty. It will spur research and innovation in advanced computing technologies, including artificial intelligence and machine learning, data science, blockchain and quantum information.

All of this will be guided by ethics and responsibility. USC has long been a leader in education, research and development that shape the formation of best practices for the uses of technology. The university will continue to acknowledge, anticipate and navigate the potentially adverse impacts of technology.

Through USC Frontiers of Computing, USC will prepare students for a more tech-intensive world of work, spark new technological advances to improve people’s lives and shape responsible policy.

Because every discipline today requires a level of digital fluency, students in all majors will receive training in data analytics and coding skills, among other topics. In addition, students will be provided with experiential learning opportunities with industry partners, particularly in Silicon Beach. Already, USC is among the largest providers of tech talent in the U.S. and confers the most computer science degrees among private research institutions.

The initiative will reach into all disciplines, as well, including the creative arts, gaming, the humanities and health sciences.

USC will add to its brain trust a roster of world-class scientists with a track record of entrepreneurship, mentorship and groundbreaking research collaboration with colleagues across the spectrum of disciplines.

The initiative is expected to increase the university’s economic value to the region (already estimated at $8 billion in a 2017 analysis) and the globe. The initiative will result in thousands more students earning computer science degrees to bring their technological talents to jobs across multiple professions worldwide.

USC Frontiers of Computing is an investment in education, research and the Southern California economy — in particular, Silicon Beach, an area encompassing Marina del Rey, currently the locus of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering’s Information Sciences Institute, and Playa del Rey, home of the USC Viterbi’s Institute for Creative Technologies.

The initiative will focus on three key areas of technology: advancing AI and machine learning software; improving hardware efficiency and scalability; and, in this era of big data, expanding quantum computing.

“This endeavor is a tremendous opportunity to apply new computing tools to accelerate and expand the impact of scientific discovery,” said Ishwar K. Puri, USC senior vice president for research and innovation. “It is not only the ability to solve problems that sets this apart, but the speed with which it can be done. That’s paramount because such problems as climate change jeopardize our planet and we must begin to address this now to ensure a continuing and, we hope, improving quality of life.”

Ultimately, the university’s endeavor to launch a renaissance in computing could propel greater investment, growth and innovation across the Southern California region, the state and the world.

“The world needs more and better tech talent,” said Yannis C. Yortsos, dean of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, which will oversee the new school. “The new School of Advanced Computing will tackle this challenge by developing reimagined engineering curricula to keep up with the fast-changing pace of technology.”

A legacy of innovation

For more than 50 years, USC has pioneered breakthroughs in computer science, AI, machine learning and quantum computing, including the creation of the domain name system (e.g., .com, .net, .edu), natural language processing that preceded current large language models, the first quantum computing system at a university and socially assistive robots.

USC Frontiers of Computing builds upon the university’s strong foundation of entrepreneurship and computing innovations, such as USC Viterbi’s ISI, which helped design, develop and run the early internet, to ICT, which pioneered new advances in virtual reality.

In addition, quantum computing holds the promise of processing vast, massive amounts of data quickly. Home of the USC-Lockheed Martin Quantum Computing Center, USC was the first university in the world and the only university in the United States to host and operate a commercial quantum computing system.

The center’s opening in 2011 ushered in a wave of new quantum computing centers, followed by Google and NASA in 2013.

“I am particularly excited about the prospect of expanding upon USC’s long history of leadership in quantum computing,” said Amber D. Miller, dean of the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, which oversees quantum information science. “The potential is tremendous not only for great progress in applications such as cryptography and seismic simulations, but also for foundational breakthroughs in research areas like black holes, computational biology and quantum materials.”

A pivotal moment

In 2019, USC received a $260 million gift granted by the Lord Foundation of California. The new USC School of Advanced Computing is the foundation, as well as a part of USC Viterbi. It will feature programs in information technology, data sciences and interdisciplinary efforts in advanced computing across all USC Viterbi academic departments.

The school will be headquartered at the Dr. Allen and Charlotte Ginsburg Human-Centered Computation Hall. The seven-story, 116,000-square-foot hall, now under construction, features interactive spaces and laboratories.

By spring next year, the ranks of faculty at the new school will begin to expand. Thirty new faculty members will be appointed in priority areas by 2025; another 60 will have been recruited by 2030. While enhancing the educational and research opportunities attractive to undergraduate and graduate students, the addition of faculty will expand USC’s portfolio of intellectual property and widen its network of collaborators across academia and industry.

“The business opportunities and societal impact of the ever-more-rapid computing revolution are immense, and USC is at the forefront of both,” said Geoffrey Garrett, dean of the USC Marshall School of Business. “With an entire academic department dedicated to data science, and with technically skilled faculty placed throughout all our business programs, we are well-placed not only to focus on the cutting-edge business applications of technologies like AI and blockchain, but also to understand and shape their consequences for society.”

The USC Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young Academy for Arts, Technology and the Business of Innovation is another example of how faculty and students are working across disciplines to analyze societal challenges and create humane solutions to complex issues. The USC Iovine and Young Academy provides a learning framework that is centered on the intersection of human-centered technology, design, entrepreneurship and communication.

Innovation for the public good

USC has been rising in the ranks for federal financing of computing research (it is now fourth with $110 million in federal funds, according to the National Science Foundation). It also leads in the number of students who graduate with computer science degrees.

Each year, USC confers an estimated 1,500 computer science degrees — the most of any private research institution, based on a comparison of data from the National Center for Education Statistics.

The School of Advanced Computing will position the university to be the leading source of tech talent on the West Coast. Within the next decade, more than 28,000 USC students will graduate with computing-related proficiency across different disciplines and degrees, preparing them for tech-forward professions of the future, university projections show.

The economic footprint of USC Frontiers of Computing will scale across the Southern California region — and beyond — as more faculty join USC and new graduates move into jobs and launch new ventures or enterprises. USC and its collaborators in Silicon Beach will stimulate a culture of invention to spark job creation, economic growth and the development of deep-tech products and services that will improve people’s lives.

In 2021, NSF awarded $15 million to USC Viterbi to lead the startup ecosystem, the I-Corps Hub: West Region, in the Western states with collaborators such as UCLA and California Institute of Technology. The hub is meant to accelerate technology commercialization, quickly moving breakthrough discoveries from the lab to the marketplace.

USC Frontiers of Computing will incorporate the recently announced USC Center for Generative AI and Society to seed research, convene experts and expand the university’s national leadership in computing with a special focus on the ethical use and innovation of generative AI.

In addition, Yortsos affirms that ethics and communication skills to ensure trustworthy technologies will be an important part of a reimagined USC curriculum. “We aim to educate trustworthy engineers and professionals, with outstanding technical competence and outstanding technical character. Together, the two create trust, sorely missing in today’s world. Frontiers of Computing must also speak to this.”

The computer science department in USC Viterbi will be named the Thomas Lord Department of Computer Science to honor the donor, philanthropist, engineer and inventor who founded the Lord Foundation. USC will also endow a chair in the name of the late Donald Alstadt, the former Lord Corporation president and director of the Lord Foundation of California, who was instrumental in bringing the Lord Foundation to USC. The university plans to hold an event to celebrate these milestones in the fall.

“We are extremely pleased to see how USC is expanding on its history of innovation and creativity to extend Thomas Lord’s legacy for future generations,” said Mickey Pohl, [TITLE TK] “The Frontiers of Computing initiative is an expansive and bold move that will enhance education and research in advanced computing with responsibility and integrity. It also fits so closely with the vision of Thomas Lord, and that of his friend and successor as Lord Foundation CEO Donald M. Alstadt, for how institutions like USC could advance the public good.”

A hub for new talent, turbocharged innovation

Los Angeles is home to one of the most dynamic tech ecosystems in the U.S. It has one of the most diverse, innovative and creative populations found anywhere, positioning Southern California to become a turbocharged innovation incubator.

Anchored by its two research powerhouses — ISI and ICT — Silicon Beach will be an expanded hub for applied research and innovation. It will firmly connect USC with the Westside tech corridor that includes campuses for Google, Amazon, SpaceX and other leading technology firms.

The initiative will expand on USC’s deep commitment to community engagement. The university plans to create a new president’s scholars program that will help community college students prepare and successfully transfer into four-year degree programs at USC to prepare for careers in technology. USC will also provide computing and coding camps for K-12 schools and community college students in Silicon Beach, and the university will continue to partner directly with the creative arts community.

USC students and faculty will forge new partnerships that will prepare them for professional and academic advancement in all fields.


“Our students and faculty have proven time again that through innovation, invention and collaboration, they are motivated to tackle the biggest challenges of our time,” Folt said. “USC was founded on an arc of purpose that strives to build a better, more equitable and ethical future for generations to come.”

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