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UCSB awarded $5.3 million to spearhead AI and cybersecurity research

West entrance to the UC Santa Barbara Library, showing Mountain (left) and Ocean (right) sides of the library.
UC Santa Barbara Library, Wikimedia Commons.
West entrance to the UC Santa Barbara Library, showing Mountain (left) and Ocean (right) sides of the library.

The Central Coast is becoming a hub for cutting-edge fields like renewable energy, space exploration and artificial intelligence. UC Santa Barbara is the latest example.

The university has secured $5.3 million in federal grant money for new research in AI and cybersecurity.

UCSB has been chosen as the leading university for a research project called the Institute for Agent-based Cyber Threat Intelligence and Operation, or ACTION. The university will join over 20 top AI research institutions to find ways to harness AI to protect cybersecurity and privacy.

Giovanni Vigna is a UCSB computer science professor and cybersecurity expert. He’s spearheading this project.

“I think it's a fantastic opportunity to put UCSB at the forefront of two of the most important fields in computer science: artificial intelligence and cybersecurity,” Vigna said.

Vigna said many critical infrastructures we rely on daily, like hospitals and universities, are highly vulnerable to cyber-attacks.

“The main problem in reacting to these attacks is that we need speed and scale,” Vigna said, “And speed and scale can only be achieved through automation because humans are not fast enough.”

That’s where artificial intelligence comes in.

Vigna said these technologies are already used to identify harmful webpages and potential cyber threats– but the ACTION project aims to push the boundaries further by developing advanced AI systems that can reason and think like humans.

“‘What is this? Why is this happening? And what does it mean to me?’” Vigna said. “This type of reasoning and contextualization is something that requires more than machine learning- more than large language models.”

What excites Vigna most about the ACTION program is the opportunity to collaborate with other leading AI researchers.

“We're looking at breakthroughs,” Vigna said. “We're looking at working together with groups of AI experts and cybersecurity experts so that we can define a new way to do security.”

The funding for this project comes from the National Science Foundation as part of the Biden-Harris Administration's initiative to support AI research.

Amanda Wernik is a reporter and substitute announcer at KCBX. She graduated from Cal Poly with a BS in Journalism. During her time at Cal Poly, she worked as a news anchor for KCPR Radio and as an intern for the CJ Silas Show on ESPN Radio.
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