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Nvidia's $70 million Florida supercomputer hobbled by DeSantis law

Michael Smith, Bloomberg News on

Published in Business News

Representatives for DeSantis didn’t respond to requests for comment. Malachowsky and Nvidia declined to comment.

Security concerns

Backers of the law say there are legitimate reasons to be concerned about students coming from countries whose governments are antagonistic to the US. Washington and Beijing are at odds on numerous economic and security issues, including AI. The US has been in armed conflict with Iran-backed forces in the Middle East. DeSantis has said the prohibition on foreign researchers is intended to keep spies from stealing technology from Florida universities.

China’s communist regime has focused on bolstering its education systems around AI since at least 2017, when it announced a plan to become “the world’s primary AI innovation center” by 2030. Now, five of the top six universities that publish papers on AI are based in China, according to CSRankings, which tracks computer-science research.

China is still playing catch-up with the US in AI, trailing in overall investments and newly funded AI startups. The gap was highlighted by the launch of OpenAI’s ChatGPT and compounded by US export controls on the most advanced chips needed to train AI models.

That’s part of why US universities are flooded with applications from China and Iran. In 2018, a quarter of the world’s top AI researchers were from China, and 57% were recruited by US universities. Three-fourths stayed to work in the US, an analysis by research center MacroPolo found. Iran ranked fourth among countries supplying AI researchers to the US, according to Matt Sheehan, a fellow at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who worked on the study at MacroPolo.

 

“Top talent wants to work with top talent,” Sheehan said, “and historically American universities have been the place where that happens.”

The State Department vets aspiring foreign graduate student researchers as part of its visa application process, checking multiple terrorism and law-enforcement databases. That makes Florida’s law, which requires universities to create their own national security vetting departments, overkill, faculty leaders said.

“There is concern about China and Iran, and we don’t want to downplay those concerns,” Wright said. “But a sledgehammer is not the best way.”

Faculty pushback

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