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NSF Grant To Boost Data Visualization With Addition Of AI
July 6, 2020

The National Science Foundation (NSF) have announced the award of a $5 million grant to synergize two complementary technologies — large-scale data visualization and artificial intelligence — to create the Smart Amplified Group Environment (SAGE3) open-source software.

SAGE, soon to be on its third iteration as SAGE3, is the most widely used big-data visualization and collaboration software in the world. It enables teams of collaborators to work together with data in the form of data visualizations. SAGE and SAGE2 are software to enable data-rich collaboration on high-resolution display walls. SAGE2 moved SAGE into cloud computing and SAGE3 ushers in the inclusion of artificial intelligence.

Researchers from the University of Hawai’i at M?noa, the University of Illinois at Chicago, and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) will collaborate on the five-year project. The research team includes Jason Leigh, Ph.D., principal investigator, a computer and information science professor at University of Hawai’i at M?noa and the inventor of SAGE; Chris North, Ph.D., co-principal investigator, a professor of computer science in the College of Engineering and associate director of the Discovery Analytics Center at Virginia Tech; Luc Renambot, Electronic Visualization Laboratory associate research professor and co-architect with Dr. Leigh of the SAGE software; and Mahdi Belcaid, Ph.D., an assistant professor at University of Hawai’i at M?noa and the artificial intelligence co-principal investigator on the project.

Scientists analyzing their data in SAGE3 will collaborate with each other and with artificial intelligence through large interactive visualization spaces, such as multi-monitor workstations, tiled display walls, and virtual reality headsets.

SAGE3’s novel interactive artificial intelligence methods will learn from human analytic activity and use the knowledge gained to assist people in synthesizing relevant data connections that lead to new hypotheses and findings, explained Dr. North.

According to Dr. Leigh, the applications for the SAGE3 technology are endless. “It will be tremendously useful to enable evidence-based response during natural disasters and events like the current COVID-19 pandemic,” he noted.

“This new funding provides us with an opportunity to take SAGE to the next level — providing smart end-user services to amplify users’ productivity making commercial and open-source artificial intelligence solutions available that can autonomously and transparently analyze data while continually learning and improving through user interactions,” said Maxine Brown, director of the Electronic Visualization Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“SAGE3 also supports resource orchestration services that integrates these smart services with applications, workflows, and visualizations and collaboration services, and makes it easy for users to connect to local and remote display walls and computational systems and to securely run reproducible work models,” explained Luc Renambot, Electronic Visualization Laboratory associate research professor and co-architect with Leigh of the SAGE software since its inception.

“As a ‘co-pilot’ to individuals or teams who are trying to examine large datasets, SAGE3 will provide a discovery pathway from data sources to human insights and knowledge, which is currently a gap in the e-Science pipeline that the National Science Foundation has called the ‘missing middle,’” said Mahdi Belcaid, assistant professor at University of Hawai’i at M?noa and the artificial intelligence co-principal investigator on the project.

According to the researchers, SAGE3 will make artificial intelligence technologies broadly accessible, not just a privilege for the technically savvy. Dr. North said the project will conduct user-centered design research studies to ensure usability of this novel combination of data visualization and artificial intelligence in SAGE3. SAGE3 will serve to bring together computer scientists, domain scientists, engineers, artists, and designers to tackle some of the world’s most complex challenges.

Additionally, Dr. Leigh said he sees SAGE3 helping teachers use and share artificial intelligence concepts to future generations of students. And for those who work in creative media, such as filmmakers and video game designers, Leigh envisions it being a highly visual tool to brainstorm new ideas and analyze all forms of digital media to see how they relate to each other, which ones were most popular and why.

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