PNNL launches center for AI research

PNNL launches center for AI research
Keeping the electrical grid humming is one focus of artificial intelligence research at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. (Photo by Andrea Starr | Pacific Northwest National Laboratory)

The Department of Energy’s (DOE) Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) has created the Center for AI @PNNL to coordinate the research of hundreds of scientists working on a range of projects focused on science, security, and energy resilience.

Researchers at PNNL were among the first to dive into artificial intelligence decades ago, the laboratory said. But AI has surged in the past year with the ready availability of generative AI, which allows almost anyone to produce —though sometimes errant— text and images with just a small amount of data. At the same time, AI is a tool for serious researchers as well as a subject all its own for scientists to create, explore, and validate new ideas, PNNL said.

“PNNL has deep expertise and decades of experience in computing and artificial intelligence that we apply to advance scientific discovery, strengthen energy resiliency, and enhance national security,” said Steven Ashby, Laboratory director. “The creation of the Center for AI at PNNL will leverage and amplify these capabilities for even greater impact in service of our nation.”

A priority of the Center for AI at PNNL is developing ways to keep AI secure and trustworthy, PNNL said. PNNL scientists have contributed to the IEEE Ethics Certification Program for Autonomous and Intelligent Systems, a program to make sure algorithms are trustworthy and free of bias.

As a DOE Office of Science laboratory, the primary focus of AI at PNNL is on challenges related to science. One team is using AI to develop ways to predict which hurricanes are most likely to strengthen rapidly and unexpectedly.

Many of the applications of AI research at PNNL are focused on energy resilience and on keeping the world secure. Laboratory scientists use AI to attempt to improve the operation of the nation’s electrical grid, while others are using machine learning to explore new combinations of compounds that could power the next generation of lithium batteries. Another common application is protection against the proliferation of nuclear materials.

Most recently, PNNL’s AI capabilities have been used to help firefighters predict the paths of wildfires.

Among the other areas of interest to the participants of the Center for AI at PNNL are the creation and development of an AI-ready workforce; the deployment of AI in daily operations at PNNL; exploration of how humans and AI programs can best work together; and autonomous experimentation, where AI can direct robots’ activity in the laboratory, analyze results, then map out and even direct subsequent tasks.

Originally published in Power Grid International.