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White House, UT alum returns to Rocky Top to lead new artificial intelligence programs

By Shannon Smith, Teknovation Assistant Editor, PYA

It’s hard to avoid artificial intelligence (AI) these days. All you have to do is say the right name and a robot in your house starts playing music for you. You may not understand how it all works, but one University of Tennessee (UT) grad does, and she’s bringing that knowledge back home.

A top expert in artificial intelligence, or AI, is none other than UT alumna Lynne Parker. The former Interim Dean of UT, Knoxville’s (UTK) Tickle College of Engineering is coming back to Rocky Top next month as Associate Vice Chancellor and Director of the new AI Tennessee Initiative at UT.

In this new role, Parker (pictured here) will lead UTK’s artificial intelligence education and research. She returns to the campus after serving four years as Deputy United States Chief Technology Officer and Director of the National Artificial Intelligence Initiative Office within the White House. Parker will take what she learned there to help students navigate and contribute to the growing world of AI technology.

“My goal has always been to advance AI initiatives and policy to the benefit of the American people, and indeed our world. I am proud of the accomplishments we have made over three administrations, together with colleagues from across government, academia, and industry,” said Parker in a news release published by UTK. “In my new role, I look forward to advancing Tennessee’s engagement in this work by bringing together the broad perspectives and expertise of faculty and students from across many disciplines, not only on the UT Knoxville campus but also with partner institutions and organizations across the state.”

This new initiative at UTK aims to increase the university’s funded research, expand the number of students working with AI, and position UTK as a leader in this field.

Parker has her master’s degree from UT and her Ph.D. from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She became a faculty member at UTK in 2002 and founded the Distributed Intelligence Laboratory, focused on research and knowledge of machine learning and human-robot interaction.

“I am thrilled Lynne is returning to UT to deepen and give focus to the research we are doing in AI, both here at UT and throughout Tennessee,” said Vice Chancellor for Research Deborah Crawford in a news release from the university. “AI is increasingly important to our economy and our society, and Lynne’s depth of knowledge and unique expertise will ensure our work in this space is meaningful, thoughtful, and supportive of people’s lives and livelihoods.”

Parker boasts several accolades and titles, including Fellow of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and a Distinguished Member of the Association for Computing Machinery.

She begins her new role September 6.

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