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OU professor named to Board on Atmospheric Sciences, Climate; seeks to increase trust in artificial intelligence

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Amy McGovern

Amy McGovern has been named to the Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate for her AI research. 

An OU professor has been named to the Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate for her research in collaborating artificial intelligence with meteorology.

Amy McGovern is the principal investigator of OU’s National Science Foundation AI Institute for Research on Trustworthy AI in Weather, Climate, and Coastal Oceanography, and said in an interview she was hired by OU in 2005 to bring her expertise of AI and computer science to meteorology. She said she’s had an eventful year thanks to her contributions to growing interest in using AI technology to better understand climate change and inclement weather.

McGovern said she received a $20 million grant from the National Science Foundation Sept. 1, 2020, to continue her research of using AI to increase public safety during inclement weather. McGovern also said AI can be used to improve the public’s climate resiliency, on top of potentially saving more lives.

“The focus is creating AI that people are actually going to use and trust,” McGovern said, “not just AI that you sort of throw over the fence and say ‘Here, this is good.’ We want them to actually want to use AI and believe that the AI is going to help them with their weather forecasting, understanding the climate movement, improving our climate resiliency, et cetera.”

Her work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal and has earned her a position as a fellow of the American Meteorological Society, a title she said she received in January. McGovern, who said she has studied AI for 20 years now, said she’s seen public perception of AI change drastically, as well as the technology itself.

“It means a lot that we're actually getting the recognition for the fact that AI can do things,” McGovern said. “People didn't realize what AI could do for them. But the AI researchers could really see the vision that AI was really going to transform our lives. And so now that people can recognize that with grant funding and large institutes, it feels really good, because people can see that we actually really can make a difference. My goal with AI … (has) been to be able to help people, to save more lives.”

McGovern said AI can especially be used for tornado safety. According to McGovern, 80 percent of the country’s tornadoes are forewarned, but 80 percent of tornado warnings are false alarms. With AI, McGovern said, meteorologists can potentially be able to increase the accuracy of tornado warnings while also decreasing the amount of false alarms. 

McGovern also said the average time a warning goes off before a tornado hits, also known as lead time, is 15 minutes. McGovern said experts hope to use AI to increase that lead time to 20-30 minutes, giving the public more time to prepare and take shelter.

“If we can use AI to predict all of those events with more accuracy and farther in advance, then we can save lives,” McGovern said. “Improving the accuracy, and improving the lead time, all that, I think will really help, and AI can do that. AI can be used to help sort through the thousands and thousands of tornadoes that we have archived and find new patterns.”

Caleb McCourry is an intern news reporter at The Daily and is a junior at OU majoring in English. Caleb has previously served as the sports desk's editor and assistant editor, covering football, basketball and volleyball. Caleb is a Norman native.

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