AI has genuinely transformative potential, with high stakes, great possibilities and significant risks. It was a natural choice to be the first focus area for our Wisconsin RISE Initiative.

A focus on this area builds on our strong foundations in data science and computer science while integrating the social sciences, humanities and human ecology, with the goal of putting people at the center of these solutions.

Jennifer L. Mnookin, Chancellor

Human-centered technology

Artificial intelligence, or AI, is a field with tremendous possibility for improving the human condition, but it also carries with it a concerning set of risks. It can accelerate the pace of discovery, reflecting a seismic technological shift, but it also requires thoughtful attention to ethics and security. UW–Madison has foundational expertise across research disciplines to address these realities. Making it the first focus of Chancellor Mnookin’s Wisconsin RISE Initiative will propel the university to a new level of capacity, with a focus on both the core scientific dimensions as well as the human-centered implications of AI.

“Recognizing both the consequences of adopting this technology and its power to overcome problems to move us in new directions can be the distinction between those who succeed and those who don’t. We have the opportunity to help society find success with AI by taking a holistic approach to computing and scientific challenges, understanding the human aspects, and by working to ensure our students appreciate its relevance to their lives and careers,” says Provost Charles Isbell, whose own research has focused on AI.


AI is such remarkable technology that it has been a priority for many of our departments for years. New, strategic additions can build that effort to a crescendo, leveraging the way fundamental AI research and diverse applications help each other to new heights.

Ian Robertson, Dean of the College of Engineering

Investing in AI

Over the next three to five years, RISE will accelerate the growth of UW–Madison’s network of AI innovators, adding up to 50 new faculty positions at all levels across campus to complement regular hiring. Wisconsin RISE stands to more than double campus investment in AI and related fields than could otherwise have been achieved. New AI-focused faculty will join schools, colleges, centers, institutes and other units across campus.

Accelerating discovery across disciplines

UW–Madison faculty, staff, and students are already unlocking new applications for AI in disparate arenas — in medicine and materials science, in agriculture and communications — to answer hard questions and discover new possibilities in their research. UW–Madison researchers have employed AI to improve the diagnosis of genetic disorders, help farmers detect disease in their crops before it spreads, and to predict new materials based on the properties that would be most useful.

AI is perhaps most visible in the form of “generative AI” and large language models — algorithms that learn from oceans of data to approximate human communication and serve as the engine for chatbots like ChatGPT — and other AI models that perform similar computing tasks to create images.

While AI systems are often computers able to perform tasks that would otherwise require human intelligence, campus-wide attention to RISE can help keep humanity central to those systems by also recruiting AI expertise in fields such as psychology, journalism and mass communication, and philosophy.


The future of AI is here, and with it comes an urgency to deploy human-centered design to understand how people adapt to and leverage these technologies. Human Ecology has been leading the human-centered design initiative, which will add value to the campus-wide RISE AI Initiative because addressing complex questions requires an ecological approach that puts people at the center.

Soyeon Shim, Elizabeth Holloway Schar Dean of the School of Human Ecology

We already know that AI is and will be accelerating discovery in fields such as physics and atmospheric science. Because AI is becoming so pervasive in all aspects of our lives, it is inseparable from the social sciences and humanities; it is critical that we engage these disciplines in this work, particularly in thinking about the safe and ethical use of AI.

Eric Wilcots, Dean of the College of Letters & Science

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