NYSERNet to Empire AI? Not Quite

Photos © Aditya Mohan

NYSERNet (New York State Education and Research Network) began in 1985 when visionary leaders from New York’s top research universities and institutions came together with the idea of creating a high-speed research network. This initiative was well ahead of its time, delivering network services long before the general public was familiar with the internet. By 1987, NYSERNet had deployed the nation’s first statewide regional IP network, setting the stage for the modern internet as we know it. Initially, the network operated at 56 kbps and was later upgraded to a T1 backbone in 1989 and a T3 backbone in 1994. NYSERNet was fundamental in developing essential internet protocols like the Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP), which are still in use today (NYSERNet) .

In contrast, recent public interest AI initiatives such as the Empire AI Consortium, although significant, do not match the pioneering spirit and foundational impact of NYSERNet. Launched in 2024, the Empire AI Consortium involves several leading New York institutions and aims to foster responsible AI research and innovation. However, this initiative is more reactive than proactive, primarily countering the advancements made by the private sector rather than introducing groundbreaking fundamental research. While it builds on existing technologies and frameworks, it does not possess the novelty that characterized NYSERNet's early efforts in the digital networking domain  (Governor Kathy Hochul)  (The White House) .

NYSERNet’s establishment was a crucial step in the evolution of the internet, enabling unprecedented collaboration and data exchange among research institutions. This level of innovation and foundational development, driven purely by the vision to enhance academic and research capabilities, is not as prevalent in today's public interest AI initiatives. These modern initiatives, though well-funded and collaborative, often aim to regulate and harness existing technologies rather than inventing new ones from the ground up (History of the Internet).

Call for Action

The legacy of NYSERNet stands as a testament to the power of visionary and proactive foundational research with public, non-profit motives. This early initiative not only paved the way for the modern internet but also exemplified how academic and governmental collaborations can lead to groundbreaking technological advancements. Today, while initiatives like the Empire AI Consortium are valuable, they often react to existing trends rather than setting new ones. To truly harness the transformative potential of AI and other emerging technologies, there must be a renewed focus on fundamental research.

Academics and government agencies must collaborate to pioneer new frontiers rather than merely building upon the existing foundation laid by the private sector. This involves investing in original, ground-breaking research that addresses long-term societal challenges and sets the stage for future innovations. By doing so, we can ensure that the next wave of technological advancements will not only catch up with current trends but also anticipate and shape the future. 

Let us draw inspiration from NYSERNet's example and commit to fostering a culture of innovation that prioritizes foundational research for the public good.

Marie Curie, the Polish physicist and chemist who conducted pioneering research on radioactivity once said "I am among those who think that science has great beauty. A scientist in his laboratory is not only a technician: he is also a child placed before natural phenomena which impress him like a fairy tale."

The image illustrates a significant milestone in AI development, where an AI passes the Turing test. Advanced virtual reality gear and nanotechnology devices are visible, emphasizing the integration of cutting-edge technology and the blending of human and artificial intelligence. The atmosphere captures the essence of the transformative impact AI and nanotechnology are expected to have on every aspect of life by the 2030s.

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