“Vision 2025” outlines new CITRIS strategic direction

Vision 2025

Artificial intelligence, digital transformation and the future of work, and technology policy play key roles in the new strategic plan launched this month by the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) and the Banatao Institute.

Vision 2025 defines a new direction for the multi-campus research institute, established as one of four Governor Gray Davis Institutes for Science and Innovation in 2001. The strategic planning process encompassed all four CITRIS campuses at UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Merced, and UC Santa Cruz, and was introduced at the CITRIS Town Hall at UC Berkeley headquarters in Sutardja Dai Hall on December 5, 2018.

“CITRIS’s new strategic plan, developed over the past year in collaboration with faculty leaders, senior staff and other stakeholders, is designed to address the rapid evolution of information technologies to meet pressing social and environmental challenges,” says Costas Spanos, CITRIS director and Andrew S. Grove Distinguished Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences at UC Berkeley.

“It’s said that technology’s impact is overestimated in the short-term but underestimated in the long-term, and we’re seeing that with artificial intelligence,” adds Spanos. “Many worry about what is going to happen in two to three years, but not what will happen in 10 or 20 years. CITRIS is looking beyond the horizon, as the landscape changes, to lead by example.”

As a result, the institute’s central research thrusts grow from four to six, now divided into the categories of “Core Technology” and “Technology and Society.” Likewise, the cornerstone CITRIS Seed Funding Program now accepts proposals in six research areas.

Within Core Technology, the current pillars of Health, People & Robots, and Sustainable Infrastructures remain. The latter initiative expands its reach in a recent merger with the California Institute for Energy and Environment (CIEE), the UC public-interest energy research group founded in 1989.

Under Technology and Society, the CITRIS Policy Lab launched last fall to support technology policy research, drawing on CITRIS’s legacy initiatives of Connected Communities and Data and Democracy.

Also under Technology and Society, the new Future of Work thrust, a collaboration with Berkeley’s Work and Intelligent Tools and Systems (WITS) and the Berkeley Roundtable on the International Economy (BRIE), will address the impact of AI and automation on the workplace.

Launched as a pilot program two years ago, jointly sponsored by CITRIS and the UC Berkeley College of Engineering, the Women in Technology Initiative at the University of California aims to increase the persistence and success of women in technical fields, and foster their representation, recognition and equitable compensation throughout the professional ranks.

These research priorities also recognize, and are well-aligned with, the new signature initiatives of UC Berkeley, where CITRIS is headquartered.

In addition to research thrusts, CITRIS is also expanding facilities and student programs across CITRIS campuses.

The CITRIS Foundry at Berkeley headquarters restarts after a five-year review with new leadership and a renewed vision to expand beyond startups and entrepreneurship into a broader innovation hub for deep technology. Accelerators are now at all CITRIS campuses, with the UC Merced Venture Lab and the opening of the UC Davis Student Startup Center and UC Santa Cruz’s SVLink last year.

New makerspaces have also cropped up, now available at Davis’s Student Startup Center as well as at Merced’s Venture Lab and the CITRIS Invention Lab at Berkeley. A makerspace at UC Santa Cruz is under development.

With the rapid growth of drone technology, CITRIS Aviation expands beyond its origins at UC Merced. The MESA Lab (for Mechatronics, Embedded Systems, and Automation) inaugurated the program in 2012, and now UC Merced hosts the UC Center for Excellence on Unmanned Aircraft System Safety. CITRIS UC Davis has launched an annual drone training academy, and its UAV research lab is due to open soon.

Student discovery programs widen their reach with student-led projects supported by the CITRIS Tech for Social Good Program now operating at UC Davis and UC Berkeley. Berkeley’s venerable Cal Energy Corps summer internship program for undergraduates is now administered by CITRIS through CIEE; last year, program hosts included Tec de Monterrey in Mexico, one of CITRIS’s international partner institutions.

International efforts are centered in the Banatao Institute, added to the CITRIS name in 2016 to recognize the contributions of founders Dado and Maria Banatao to expand the reach of CITRIS around the world.

“As the world grows smaller and more interconnected each day, the challenges of low-resource areas become more pressing,” says Dado Banatao, advisory board chair of CITRIS and the Banatao Institute. “With this new vision, CITRIS and the Banatao Institute sets the best minds of the University of California to address the greatest challenges for the greatest good – in California, the U.S., and across the globe.”

The Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) and the Banatao Institute, headquartered at UC Berkeley, is one of four Governor Gray Davis Institutes for Science and Innovation established by the State of California in 2001. With sites at UC Davis, UC Merced, and UC Santa Cruz, CITRIS is an interdisciplinary research organization driving innovations in technology for social good. Learn more at CITRIS-UC.org.

Photos: Adriel Olmos