Gov Murphy speaks to a packed audience

NJ AI summit spotlights an ‘extraordinary opportunity’ to lead in AI technology and its responsible development

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy speaks in Princeton's Richardson Auditorium at the April 11 summit on artificial intelligence.

The New Jersey AI Summit brought together 600 leaders from academia, business and government at Princeton University on April 11 to explore the rapidly evolving possibilities and challenges of artificial intelligence and to begin charting a course for New Jersey’s role in the future of AI.

The event featured rapid-fire presentations from world-class AI experts at Princeton and across New Jersey, along with broader perspectives provided by Gov. Phil Murphy, Princeton President Christopher L. Eisgruber, Microsoft Vice Chair and President Brad Smith, and Princeton Provost Jennifer Rexford. It also marked progress in the development of a New Jersey AI hub, announced in December by Murphy and Eisgruber, in collaboration with the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA).

President Eisgruber enjoys a presentation

Princeton University President Christopher L. Eisgruber listens to the summit keynote address by Brad Smith, vice chair and president of Microsoft Corporation. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy is at right in the background.

“This was exactly the type of collaboration that we envisioned — leaders coming together from academia, industry and government to foster AI innovation in New Jersey. I am delighted to see it come to fruition today,” Eisgruber said at the summit in Richardson Auditorium. “The AI hub advances two of Princeton University’s highest strategic priorities: helping to cultivate a robust regional ecosystem and accelerating AI innovation and education. This hub presents an extraordinary opportunity for us to come together to make bold investments that will positively impact the region and the state, as well as the nation and the world.”

Officials said the hub will bring together AI researchers, industry leaders, start-up companies and other collaborators to advance research and development, house dedicated accelerator space, advance the use of ethical AI for positive societal impact, and promote workforce development to support new technology development in collaboration with other New Jersey universities, community colleges and vocational schools.

Throughout the summit’s sessions and in many informal conversations over the course of the day, participants expressed a sense of excitement and responsibility that comes with shaping a transformative technology at the dawn of its promise.

“At a time when the future of AI has yet to be written, we in New Jersey can be its author,” Murphy said in his summit remarks. “We want our state government to be a catalyst for bringing together innovators and leaders, like many of you here today, to unlock a new century of hope: from discovering new drugs and medical treatments to developing new personalized educational tools [that] help every student reach their full potential, and everything in between. We want New Jersey to lead the way in shaping AI’s future — and not for the benefit of a small group of stakeholders, but for the benefit of everyone.”

Many of the day’s speakers echoed that theme. “We’re just at the beginning of the AI journey,” said Thierry Klein, president of solutions research at Nokia Bell Labs. “We’re still on maybe Page 2 of Chapter 1 of the book on AI.”

Responsibility to the future

Brad Smith addresses the crowd at a podium

Brad Smith, vice chair and president of Microsoft Corporation and a 1981 graduate of Princeton, delivered the keynote address.

Microsoft’s Smith, a 1981 graduate of Princeton, highlighted the implications of this AI inflection point in his keynote address.

“In the history of humanity, we are the first generation of humans to create machines that can make decisions that have always been made by people,” he said. “We need to ensure that we don’t let the future down.”

He continued: “Every generation that comes after us will have to do its part to ensure that this new generation of technology serves humanity. But as the first generation, we have no choice but to get it right.”

Smith evoked past Princeton residents Albert Einstein and J. Robert Oppenheimer, who pushed transformative technology forward and then worked to keep humanity safe from the excesses of that technology.

Princeton’s expertise across the curriculum is key to this moment, he said. “This is where one has such an opportunity to call on not just the life scientists or the quantum computer engineers, but the philosophers, the sociologists, the historians, the economists, the political scientists. We need to bring together everyone to ensure that this technology is used well. And that, too, is not just part of the legacy created by an Einstein and an Oppenheimer but a legacy that continues to this day, here on the Princeton campus and elsewhere in New Jersey.”

Building the hub

Jennifer Rexford at the podium

Princeton University Provost Jennifer Rexford delivered the opening and closing remarks and served as emcee for the daylong event.

As the AI hub begins to take shape, Eisgruber called on those in attendance to share their ideas and insights. “The conversations we have today and the ideas that you share will help shape the plans for the AI hub,” Eisgruber told the assembled leaders. “The relationships that we build today will create the foundation for collaboration in the months and years to come.”

No one institution can produce an innovation ecosystem on its own, said Princeton Provost Rexford, a computer scientist. “But we can do it together, in a way that benefits all of us and is good for the country and humanity. It starts with education and partnerships forged on days like this.”

In many ways, the hub is a natural extension of the University’s commitment to AI collaboration across disciplines and between areas of expertise.

“At Princeton, our secret sauce is our interdisciplinarity,” said Rexford, who is also Princeton’s Gordon Y.S. Wu Professor in Engineering as well as a 1991 graduate of the University. “We are small enough for true collaboration between faculty and across department boundaries, big enough for a large-scale research enterprise, and strong enough around a range of disciplines to encourage people to come together in ways that can use AI to fuel discovery.”

She continued: “AI also demands attention to questions of ethics and social responsibility, which are considerations that at Princeton are infused throughout our research and teaching mission and reflected in our informal motto of being ‘in the nation’s service and the service of humanity.’”

Mengdi Wang in front of a projection of the title of her talk "AI for Control, Design and Creation"

Mengdi Wang, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering and the Center for Statistics and Machine Learning at Princeton, described how reinforcement learning trained an AI bot to stabilize the magnetic plasma field around a fusion reaction, an engineering challenge that had stymied generations of plasma physicists.

AI for agriculture, medicine, more

The day-long summit was structured around a series of “lightning talks” — short, deep dives lasting less than 10 minutes — from world-class experts at Princeton University and from New Jersey’s broader education, research and innovation ecosystem. The speakers talked both about the potential of artificial intelligence and its concrete applications:

  • Computer vision scientist Kristin Dana, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Rutgers University, is using computer vision and AI to perform crop analysis that helps cranberry farmers in Chatsworth, New Jersey, make decisions for their cranberry bog.
  • Mengdi Wang, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering and the Center for Statistics and Machine Learning at Princeton, said that Google DeepMind, where she spent three years as a senior visiting research scientist, has designed millions of new crystal structures for proteins that could lead to new treatments and medicines. The researchers estimated that human scientists would have taken 800 years to accomplish the same task. She also described how, with “reinforcement learning,” an AI bot learned to control fusion reactions by stabilizing the magnetic plasma field, an engineering challenge that had stymied generations of plasma physicists.
  • Hisham Hamadeh, senior vice president and global head of data science and AI at Genmab, reported that thanks to more than 100 new AI-driven measurements on CT scans, Genmab scientists may soon be able to accurately predict who is unlikely to respond well to cancer treatment — even before the chemo or radiation begins.
  • Olga Troyanskaya, director of Princeton Precision Health and a professor of computer science and the Lewis Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics, described how AI-driven drug development will lead to individually targeted treatments.
  • Princeton’s Jennifer Jennings, a professor of sociology and public affairs focusing on public K-12 education, spoke about the challenges facing high school teachers. “I’m the product of New Jersey public schools, a big booster of New Jersey public schools,” she said. “We do have the best public schools in the country, because we’ve invested very carefully in our teachers, but this job keeps getting harder and harder. … So rather than thinking about replacing teachers and the learning process through adaptive technologies, let’s think about how to make their jobs doable.” Jennings proposed AI tools that could take over many aspects of grading, allowing teachers to focus on meaningful learning.
  • Ed Felten, co-founder and chief scientist at Offchain Labs, also focused on AI’s implications for the workforce. “In 1870, about half of American workers worked in agriculture. Today, it’s less than 2%. That’s right: technology killed 48% of U.S. jobs,” said Felten, who taught at Princeton from more than 30 years and served as the founding director of Princeton’s Center for Information Technology Policy. “And yet today, we produce more food than ever, and our unemployment rate is reasonably low. What happened was an industrial revolution. And we’re in another one right now.”
Olga Troyanskaya in front of the projections of gene diagrams

Olga Troyanskaya, director of Princeton Precision Health and a professor of computer science and the Lewis Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics, described how AI-driven drug development will lead to individually targeted treatments.

Serving the public good

Attendees and speakers alike emphasized the importance of keeping AI in the public domain and with the widest possible set of people contributing to it.

“AI has far-reaching societal impacts, and with this comes a responsibility to make sure that AI technologies are broadly available to and benefit society,” said summit attendee Susan Dumais, a regional head of Microsoft Research for New York City, Montreal and Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Summit speaker Sanjeev Arora, director of Princeton Language and Intelligence (PLI) and Princeton’s Charles C. Fitzmorris Professor of Computer Science, called for “cooperation across academia, the private sector and government to make sure that the benefits of this rapidly changing technology reach a broad cross section of society.”

At Princeton, an open-source approach to large language models “is very important for engendering public trust,” Arora said. PLI has invested in a multimillion-dollar cluster of GPUs dedicated to AI, he said, “as well as a core team of 60-plus graduate students, postdocs, etc., who are experts in creating and working with large AI models.” That broad, public-facing expertise, with a large and diverse cohort of experts, is key to earning and maintaining public trust, he said.

In her summit presentation, Olga Russakovsky, associate professor of computer science at Princeton, posed the question: If AI is shaping the future, who is shaping AI? She pointed to AI4All, a nonprofit organization that she co-founded to make AI a more inclusive career path. She received an ovation after noting that in the past decade, AI4All has grown from one summer camp for 46 high school girls to programs for high school and college students serving more than 2,600 students in all 50 states.

Several conference attendees spoke eagerly about bringing AI to their own fields to serve the public good. “As a former state legislator and executive director of Mercer County, we see the potential for AI to improve government services in ways that can serve our communities,” said Daniel Benson, Mercer County Executive and a former member of the New Jersey General Assembly.

“Through intersections between universities, national laboratories and industry, we can do far more together than we can do alone,” said Emily Carter, the Gerhard R. Andlinger Professor in Energy and the Environment at Princeton University and the senior strategic advisor and associate laboratory director for applied materials and sustainability sciences at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory.

A panel featuring Beth Noveck, Ed Felten, Jonathan Mayer, Arthur Spirling, and Arvind Narayanan

The final panel of the day, "AI, Society and Policy," featured (from left): Beth Noveck, Ed Felten, Jonathan Mayer, Arthur Spirling, and Arvind Narayanan.

AI Innovation Fellowships

At the summit, Governor Murphy announced that the state will sponsor new fellowships for entrepreneurs who will focus exclusively on AI-powered discovery, an extension of NJEDA’s Innovation Fellows program.

Murphy cited the University’s informal motto, “In the nation’s service and the service of humanity,” as a guiding principle.

“That very same principle is at the center of our administration’s vision for the future of artificial intelligence in New Jersey,” he said. “We see a future where our state’s top minds come together to pioneer new possibilities in the nation’s service and the service of humanity.”

Catherine Zandonella in the Office of the Dean for Research and Molly Seltzer in the Office of Communications contributed to this story.