AI comes to West Virginia with DataRobot, WVU partnership

·4 min read

Jun. 10—MORGANTOWN — The state of West Virginia has a new technology company it can call on to solve big problems.

DataRobot, which recently opened an office in Morgantown and hired its first local employee, wants to help grow the state's tech economy with its presence here. The San Francisco-based firm founded in 2012 in Boston and specializes in artificial intelligence solutions, also wants to help keep West Virginians in the state as one of its key goals.

West Virginia State Auditor JB McCuskey served as emcee at a press conference held Thursday at the WVU Erickson Alumni Center in Morgantown where he was joined by West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee, Dr. Clay Marsh and DataRobot CEO Dan Wright.

The partnership announced Wednesday is a culmination of months of interactions McCuskey had with Wright when the state auditor's office was searching for tools to enhance McCuskey's transparency initiative relating to the American Rescue Plan and how the state's municipalities use those funds.

"The thing that Dan and I share in common is that we understand that AI is the way that you solve big problems," McCuskey said.

McCuskey said AI is going to transform the way government works in West Virginia.

"It's going to give us new windows into our own data. It's going to allow us to understand 'How can we harness the power of taxpayer dollars in the most efficient way possible to generate the outcomes that the government is supposed to be creating? How can we feed children? How can we make sure daycares stay open? How can we make sure pandemics are responded to and roads are paved? And none of these things are possible if you don't know what's coming," McCuskey said.

He said AI is going to give the state the ability to see what's next, plan accordingly and take the taxpayer dollars and use them in the most efficient manner possible.

"The idea here is that governments generate a tremendous amount of data and end up guessing on the future, which is a very, very dangerous thing to be doing with a lot of other people's' money," McCuskey said. "And, it'll probably help us find some fraud too, which we always think is fun."

McCuskey said transparency allows citizens to hold their government officials accountable while also allowing elected officials to know what's going on.

"So, what AI does is, it enables us to take this new set of data that we've generated through the transparency, right, and analyze it in a perspective way," McCuskey said.

DataRobot has already embarked on an AI project that is two-fold for the state auditor's office, McCuskey said. Wright said his new hire drove to Charleston Wednesday to work with McCuskey's office.

The first part includes using AI to help understand state spending in real time, but "more specifically, it's going to help us manage city finances in a way that gives us predictability, so that we can find cities that are financially struggling and hopefully help them before catastrophe occurs," McCuskey said.

Wright said one thing that attracted his company to West Virginia is the desire the state has to be a national leader in modernizing state government.

"DataRobot was founded on the idea of democratizing AI, democratizing technology, democratizing data and the ability to apply advanced analytics to that data," Wright said.

He said he and McCuskey agree that data is "the new coal." DataRobot comes into the data picture and automates a lot of the tasks that data scientists used to have to do manually. And when the tasks are automated, the data can then be used to help officials make better decisions.

"In terms of the skills that we'll need, we really need people who — more than anything — have a passion for solving hard problems with data. Anybody can do it. We have the ability to educate folks quickly so that they can get trained and start using the platform and solving problems and then that creates a flywheel where you want to do more," Wright said.

Gee said WVU will produce the talent, who will then be hired by DataRobot, calling the new partnership "a great marriage."

Gee said WVU and the state agreed of three areas of focus with the DataRobot partnership — education, health care and prosperity.

"Health care is the tent pole. If we do not have a healthy population, we will not grow and not flourish," Gee said.

"What's really remarkable about DataRobot, and what I love the most about them, is they wanted to come here because of who we are, not because of some ranking or us trying to be something else. And I think that if there are lessons to be learned from this, is that it's being from West Virginia and our values and who we are is the best and we need to make sure we are selling what it means to be West Virginians ... because who we are is what they want," McCuskey said.

Reach Eric Cravey at 304-367-2523.

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