The College of Engineering has a leading role in the new national artificial intelligence project

The College of Engineering and College of Medicine will participate in a $20 million, five-year National Science Foundation-funded project to harness artificial intelligence (AI) technologies to help children with speech and language challenges.

Associate Professor of Computer Science and Engineering David Fell Siever is a co-principal investigator on the project, and it is designed to address a nationwide shortage of speech-language pathologists and provide services for children ages 3 to 10 who are most at risk of being left behind. in their academic, social and emotional development.

In addition to Feil-Seifer, associate professor at the College of Medicine and clinical educator in speech-language pathology, Abby Olszewski is a senior staff member on the project.

Grant will create a new Institute for Artificial Intelligence

The project, led by the University at Buffalo and announced January 9, will establish a national institute — the AI ​​Institute for Exceptional Education — to develop AI systems that identify and assist young children with speech and/or language processing challenges. Nine academic institutions will participate: in addition to the University of Nevada, Reno and the University at Buffalo, this is the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Stanford University; University of Washington; Cornell University; the University of Texas at El Paso; Penn State University; and the University of Oregon.

The university expects to get up to $1.25 million in funding from the project, split about 60-40 between the College of Engineering and the College of Medicine, according to Phil Seaver.

“ICT is a focus of the College of Engineering,” said Dean Eric Jones. “Designing ICTs that will drive the future is a priority, and we are excited to be working with top universities across the country on this project.”

The new AI Institute for Exceptional Education is the 19th AI institute established by the National Science Foundation.

“The AI ​​institutes are very prestigious,” said Elke Vollmer, Chair of Computer Science and Engineering. It appears that this AI institute is specifically trying to develop an AI-powered robotic solution to help children with speech problems.

“Dave has built an impressive track record of doing (artificial intelligence) research with high societal impact,” Follmer continued, whether it be developing robots to help children with autism or using robotics in K-12 to get more kids interested in STEM education. and mathematics. Given Dave’s strong track record in this field, I’m not surprised he was asked to participate in the $20 million prize.”

Using artificial intelligence to help children with speech and language disabilities

The AI ​​Institute for Exceptional Education will focus on serving the millions of children across the country who, under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, need speech and language services.

Abbie Olzewski in a lab coat standing in a lab.
Faculty of Medicine Professor Abe Olzewski is a senior staff member on the project.

Faculty of Medicine Professor Abe Olzewski is a senior staff member on the project.
It is estimated that more than 3.4 million children receive speech and language services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, yet there are fewer than 61,000 speech-language pathologists to serve. Due to national speech-language pathologist shortages and delayed or unmet services during the COVID-19 pandemic, these children risk falling behind in their academic, social, and emotional development.

The AI ​​Institute for Excellence Education will address this shortfall with two advanced AI solutions:

The AI ​​Screener will improve early identification of potential speech and/or language disabilities and disorders, and the AI ​​Orchestrator is an app that will help speech-language pathologists provide personalized, evidence-based interventions to students.

Feil-Seifer, who works in robotics and human-to-human interaction, will be involved in both solutions. He will lead the “embodiment” part of the project: essentially, designing a robot that interacts with young children identified to help with speech and language.

“When the time comes to give this thing a body, we’ll be the ones to find out,” said Vail-Sever.

This will be a new technology, Viel-Sever added, requiring researchers to figure out everything from what sensors the robot should have to what it looks like.

“Once you choose the physical design, a lot of software technology goes into making that design work,” said Vail-Sever. “Our group will develop the software that enables the robot to interact with the environment.”

He added that this technology is not intended to replace current speech and language practitioners, but aims to develop technologies that can help speech and language pathologists better serve their clients.

Northern Nevada school districts may participate in applicable testing and privacy guidelines

It may be a while before speech-language pathologists have this technology at their disposal, but northern Nevada schools may see it sooner rather than later, as Feil-Seifer and Olszewski expect to run some of the testing locally, with the knowledge of the participants.

Olszewski, in the Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology, is an Associate Professor who also provides clinical education in the University’s Speech and Hearing Clinic. She is also the Director of the Center for Language Development and Literacy, a specialist clinic for the United Nations Speech and Hearing Clinic. Her scholarship role builds on her experience in clinical education and 25 years as a speech-language pathologist in educational settings and clinical practice.

“We have the ability to take local schools and hope to partner with the Washoe County School District,” Olszewski said. “Ultimately, our hope is to serve all school districts in Nevada, urban and rural. Our goal is to include children from different cultural and language backgrounds.

Olszewski added, “There is a statewide shortage of speech-language pathologists, so this can help to identify children with speech and/or language concerns ahead of time and identify those children we have missed due to insensitive testing.”

AI Screener will listen and observe children in the classroom, and collect samples of children’s speech, facial expressions, gestures and other data. It will generate weekly summaries of these interactions which help teachers monitor their students’ speech and language processing abilities and, if necessary, suggest a formal assessment with a speech-language pathologist.

This is critical because, typically, the earlier speech and language concerns are addressed, the more likely children are to excel academically, socially, and emotionally.

The AI ​​Orchestrator is an app that will help speech-language pathologists, most of whom have so many cases that they have to give children group interventions instead of one-on-one care, according to the University at Buffalo. The app addresses this by recommending personalized content tailored to students’ needs. She continues to monitor student progress and adjust lesson plans to ensure that interventions are working.

“We also hope to have children in speech and language services for shorter periods of time because of the improved intervention services with the AI ​​regulator,” Olszewski said. “In other words, the AI ​​Institute for Exceptional Education will leverage AI to expand the range of services provided by speech-language pathologists.”

The research team will ensure that data collected by AI Screener and AI Orchestrator adheres to ethics and privacy guidelines. Information about these plans will be shared with participants. The University at Buffalo estimates that the team will deploy prototypes of each system to approximately 80 classrooms, reaching 480 kindergartens across the country.

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