The AI Arms Race Hits College Campuses

Nat Rubio-Licht
Nat Rubio-Licht is a freelance reporter with dot.LA. They previously worked at Protocol writing the Source Code newsletter and at the L.A. Business Journal covering tech and aerospace. They can be reached at nat@dot.la.
AI robots in college
Evan Xie

As AI takes over the tech sector and beyond, universities across the country have received and invested millions in AI-related research over the past several months.

Last Thursday, the University of Southern California became the latest institution to capitalize on the AI buzz. The university announced that it’s investing $10 million in seed funding into launching the Center for Generative AI and Society. The investment will fund research specifically into “ethical use and innovation of generative AI” and how it intersects with different industries, the school said in its announcement. The center will be co-led by USC media professor Holly Willis and computer science research professor Bill Swartout.


“USC is uniquely positioned to understand and influence how this emerging technology is changing the ways we live, work, and play,” USC President Carol Folt said in a statement. “Our 22 schools are long standing leaders in fields like the creative arts, media, health, education, engineering, and business.”

The center is part of Folt’s “moonshot” initiatives, or long term investments which aim to strengthen the university’s computing research and development, Ishwar K. Puri, senior vice president of research and innovation at USC, told Dot.LA. The “Frontiers of Computing” moonshot which the center is a part of is funded by a more than $260 million donation from the Lord Foundation, a nonprofit fund created following the $1 billion sale of Lord Corporation, a manufacturing company, in 2019.

Not surprisingly, it was major STEM schools who started pouring money into AI early: In 2017 Stanford and UC Berkeley launched AI research centers. A year later, MIT followed suit.

Over the past year, these types of programs have only ramped up at universities across the U.S. University of Texas got $1 million from the The MITRE Corp. last summer to study biased algorithms and disinformation in AI; Auburn University’s provost office invested $2 million to hire AI faculty and develop computational infrastructure for AI research; and University of Washington got $10 million from Boeing for an AI-focused educational space.

In Los Angeles, UCLA’s engineering school got a piece of $26 million in funding last year from a slew of VCs for its “Break Through Tech” AI hub, meant to expand AI education to students from underserved groups.

“AI spans just about everything that we do right now,” Puri told Dot.LA. “It's on everyone's mind. And universities are forging ahead with investments.”

These institutions are marching ahead at the same quick pace as startups, investors and the U.S. government. Valuations of privately-owned AI companies reached $2.2 trillion in 2022, a 16% uptick from the previous year, and VC investment for generative AI specifically rose 27% that year-over-year in 2022 to $1.4 billion. Meanwhile, a White House-led task force released a report in early February calling on Congress to invest $2.6 billion over the next six years to build out AI resources. And last week, President Joe Biden earmarked an additional $2 billion for the National Science Foundation for AI and quantum computing research in his budget proposal released last week.

While many institutions, investors and companies are pouring money and time into researching the tech itself, Puri said what set’s USC’s new center apart is its focus on AI’s broader impacts.

Puri said that Folt didn’t want the center to be a “me too” investment meant solely to join the likes of other universities experimenting with AI. Rather, the goal of the center is to investigate the tech “from the lens of how it applies to human beings.” The first initiatives the center will focus on are generative AI’s effects on arts, culture and media, as well as the tech’s impact on education.

“How does (AI) apply to a journalist? How does it apply to a filmmaker? How does it apply to a teacher?” said Puri. “Our focus is not only to improve the algorithms behind AI, but also to provide applications and solutions for real constituencies, real human beings, real demographics in mind.”

And while USC’s new center might seem like a drop in the research bucket, Puri said USC is poised to be a frontrunner in research around generative AI and its ethics because of its broad focus. The center plans to work with disciplines across campus, including USC’s journalism, film, education, arts and entrepreneurship programs.

“I would say that what we are doing is very special, and it can only be done at USC,” said Puri. “USC has one of the most diverse educational bodies in terms of disciplines. When those disciplines start talking to each other, that's the time for the most remarkable and enjoyable collisions that produce the solutions for tomorrow.”

nat@dot.la
🚁 One Step Closer to Air Taxis in LA
Image Source: Joby Aviation

🔦 Spotlight

Joby Aviation, a pioneering electric air taxi company, has achieved a significant milestone by successfully flying a hydrogen-electric aircraft demonstrator for 523 miles with only water as a byproduct. This groundbreaking flight showcases the potential for emissions-free regional travel using vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, eliminating the need for traditional runways. The company's innovative approach combines its existing battery-electric air taxi technology with hydrogen fuel cells, paving the way for longer-range, environmentally friendly air travel.

For LA residents, this development holds exciting implications for future transportation options. Joby's technology could potentially enable direct flights from LA to destinations like San Francisco or San Diego without the need to visit conventional airports, offering a cleaner and more convenient alternative to current travel methods. The company's progress in both battery-electric and hydrogen-electric aircraft positions it at the forefront of next-generation aviation, promising to revolutionize urban and regional mobility.

Notably, Joby Aviation has already made strides in Southern California by securing an agreement with John Wayne Airport earlier this year to install the region's first electric air taxi charger. This strategic move sets the stage for LA to be among the initial markets where Joby will launch its electric air taxi service. With plans to commence commercial operations as early as 2025 using its battery-electric air taxi, LA residents may soon have access to a fast, quiet, and environmentally friendly mode of transportation that could significantly reduce travel times and traffic congestion in the region. In the not too distant future, LA might find itself in an identity crisis without traffic and excess smog 🤞🤞.


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Fuel Innovation: 7 Unforgettable Team Building Experiences in LA
Image Source: Discover LA

In today's competitive business landscape, team building activities have emerged as a crucial tool for fostering a positive work environment, enhancing productivity, and crucially, improving employee retention. Studies have shown that such activities help employees feel valued, with one report indicating that 93% of those who felt appreciated were more motivated at work. Importantly, team building events may improve retention rates, as employees who feel connected to their colleagues and company culture are more likely to stay long-term. With these benefits in mind, let's explore some of the most engaging and effective team building activities available in Los Angeles.

Pickleball

Image Source: Modern Luxury Angelino

Pickleball is a fantastic team bonding activity because of the easy-to-grasp rules and gentle pace make it perfect for everyone, regardless of age or fitness level. The game thrives on communication and teamwork, as players must collaborate and strategize to outplay their opponents, boosting team cohesion. Plus, the lively, fast-paced action sparks friendly competition and laughter, creating a fun and spirited atmosphere that brings everyone closer together. Los Angeles boasts numerous pickleball courts that are easy to rent if you have your own equipment. If you need additional assistance organizing your pickleball outing, there are plenty of full-service companies ready to handle every detail for you.

Resources: Pickle Pop, Corporate Pickle


Escape Room

Image Source: The Escape Game

Escape rooms are a great way to build camaraderie. They require participants to work together, combining their problem-solving skills and creativity to overcome challenges and puzzles. The immersive and time-sensitive nature of escape rooms fosters collaboration and communication. Additionally, the shared experience of tackling complex tasks and reaching a common goal helps build trust and foster positive emotions among colleagues.

Resources: The Escape Game, 60Out


Day Trip to Catalina Island

Image Source: Love Catalina

Catalina Island is a perfect day trip for a team because it provides a break from the usual work environment, allowing team members to relax and connect in a new setting. Shared experiences during the trip, such as exploring new places and participating in fun activities, help build stronger relationships and foster a sense of camaraderie. There are numerous team-building activities such as an arboreal obstacle course, an island tour, scavenger hunts and more.

Resources: Catalina Island Group Activities


Top Golf

Image Source: Topgolf

Topgolf is an excellent team building event because it provides an inclusive, relaxed atmosphere that accommodates players of all skill levels, fostering personal connections and improving team morale. The unique blend of competition and entertainment creates an ideal setting for building trust, enhancing communication, and revealing hidden skills among team members. Additionally, Topgolf offers structured team building packages with guided activities, discussion prompts, and lessons on culture, change, collaboration, and strategy, making it a versatile and effective platform for strengthening relationships and boosting overall team performance.

Resources: Topgolf El Segundo


SoFi Stadium Tour

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A SoFi Stadium tour offers a unique, behind-the-scenes experience of one of the world's most advanced sports venues, allowing team members to explore exclusive areas like premium suites, team locker rooms, and the player tunnel together. The tour provides a shared, memorable experience that can foster camaraderie and spark conversations among team members, regardless of their interest in sports. Additionally, the stadium's state-of-the-art features and impressive architecture can inspire creativity and innovation, while the group setting encourages interaction and collaboration, making it an engaging and enjoyable activity for teams of various sizes and backgrounds

Resources: SoFi Stadium Group Tours


Corporate Volunteering

Image Source: L.A. Works

Volunteer work serves as an excellent team building activity by uniting employees around a shared, meaningful cause, fostering a sense of purpose and collective accomplishment. It provides opportunities for team members to collaborate in new ways, often revealing hidden strengths and leadership qualities that may not be apparent in the regular work environment. Additionally, engaging in community service can boost morale, enhance the company's reputation, and instill a sense of pride among employees, leading to improved workplace relationships and increased job satisfaction.

Resources: Habitat for Humanity, L.A. Works, VolunteerMatch


Corporate Improv Sessions

Image Source: Improv for the People

A corporate improv class encourages spontaneity, creativity, and quick thinking, skills that are valuable in the workplace. It promotes active listening and collaboration, as participants must work together to create scenes and respond to unexpected situations, fostering better communication and trust among team members. Additionally, the playful and often humorous nature of improv helps break down barriers, reduces stress, and creates a shared positive experience that can improve team morale and cohesion long after the event.

Resources: Improv-LA, Groundlings, Improv for the People

🎬 Paramount and Skydance Are Back On
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Happy Friday Los Angeles! Hope you all had a fantastic Fourth!!

🔦 Spotlight

Paramount and Skydance Media have rekindled talks to merge after negotiations abruptly halted in June. The proposed deal, contingent on approval from Paramount’s board, aims to combine Paramount’s extensive media holdings—including CBS, MTV, and Nickelodeon—with Skydance’s film expertise showcased in hits like "Top Gun: Maverick." This merger signals a potential transformation in the media landscape, positioning the new entity to compete more effectively amid challenges from streaming services and the decline of traditional cable TV.

Led by Shari Redstone, Paramount’s controlling shareholder via National Amusements, the deal represents a pivot towards revitalizing Paramount’s strategic direction amidst financial struggles and shareholder concerns. The involvement of major investors like RedBird Capital Partners and David Ellison underscores the financial backing aimed at stabilizing Paramount’s operations and addressing its $14 billion debt burden. Importantly, the agreement includes provisions to protect National Amusements from potential legal challenges, addressing previous hurdles that stalled earlier negotiations.

The deal also includes a 45-day period for Paramount to explore alternative offers, highlighting continued interest from other potential buyers like Barry Diller’s IAC and media executive Edgar Bronfman Jr. This flurry of activity underscores the significant stakeholders’ interest in Paramount’s future and its potential as a key player in a rapidly evolving media industry.


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  • Sidecar Health, a startup that offers personalized health insurance plans to businesses that allow members to see any doctor and pay directly at the time of service, raised a $165M Series D led by Koch Disruptive Technologies. - learn more

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