HIGHLAND FALLS – A local economic development agency has big ambitions to lure researchers and companies to the Village of Highland Falls to study artificial intelligence.
Last week, the leaders of the Orange County Industrial Development Agency's Accelerator program, which incubates new businesses and speeds up the growth of fledgling firms, said they'll soon pick a village property for an artificial intelligence-themed branch.
Accelerator leaders also have been pitching West Point's AI researchers to collaborate with the incubator. And Accelerator leaders hope their AI cluster entices military contractors and AI firms not in the incubator to open in and around Highland Falls.
“I've been doing this (serving in municipal government) for 32 years, and this is the most exciting thing that's happened for Highland Falls,” Village Mayor Joseph D'Onofrio said of the forthcoming Accelerator branch.
AI technology creates computer systems capable of tasks normally requiring human intelligence, including visual perception, speech recognition and decision-making. Robots, self-driving cars and missile systems are among countless applications.
The IDA is an independent, nonprofit public benefit corporation with an Orange County Legislature-appointed board that votes on tax breaks to attract and retain jobs.
The IDA uses applicants' fees to fund three Accelerator-branded incubators, averaging $14,000 in economic incentive costs per job for the 145 jobs it's created in local fashion, cannabis and medical device clusters.
By April, Accelerator leaders expect to pick a Highland Falls building for their fourth branch, Accelerator.AI, which could house six to eight initial businesses in 2020, with room for growth.
A former KeyBank at 195 Main St. is among the buildings IDA leaders are considering renting and subletting to the AI businesses. They're seeking at least 16,000 square feet, with plans to increase to 67,000 square feet, and a goal of keeping all or most of the AI Accelerator's space in the village.
The soon-to-open incubator could create up to 30 white-collar jobs in year-one, said Vincent Cozzolino, managing director of the Orange County IDA and its Accelerator, and Laurie Villasuso, CEO of both.
“The whole premise of the Accelerator is that 500 companies with two jobs each is just as good as one big company creating 1,000 jobs,” Villasuso said.
The Accelerator is currently considering applications from 12 businesses for its AI office slots, with more potential applicants to come, said John Graham, of Campfire Advisers, the Accelerator's consultant on opening the AI branch.
Graham, 55, of Greenwood Lake, is a retired Army colonel who headed research at West Point until about two years ago. He said it's too soon to disclose the businesses under consideration, but he hopes one will specialize in ethical AI use.
Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus, a lieutenant commander in the Navy Reserves, said the local AI incubator plan “is similar to what goes on in Annapolis,” home of the U.S. Naval Academy, because it will put complementary businesses and researchers near a topflight military school.
“West Point is so insular,” Neuhaus said. “They have everything there on that campus … and it's a pain in the neck going out of the gates, so this (Accelerator) will allow people to be outside the gates, so they have that synergy and relationship with the outside town.”
Talks between West Point and the AI Accelerator for potential collaboration are at their earliest stages, said Col. Christopher Korpela, a professor and director of West Point's Robotics Research Center.
The AI Accelerator's leaders said they hope to help West Point and Purdue University with their newly announced joint team for the Indy Autonomous Challenge. The moon-shot contest pushes America's colleges to create an AI race car that can beat an IndyCar driver.
Plus, the AI Accelerator's leaders plan to lend a hand to a simultaneous effort by Highland Falls Intermediate School students, who West Point is inspiring to try to build their own mini-AI go-kart.
“Everything is very new, with the AI incubator and the IDA,” said West Point's Korpela. “But we're open to establishing those relationships, so we can leverage and work with the AI incubator. And I can definitely see that (incubator) attracting more people to Highland Falls and being beneficial for the community.”