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MIT Better World

An extended version of this story appeared on MIT News on February 1, 2018.
By Peter Dizikes

“Today we set out to answer two big questions,” President L. Rafael Reif said in the February 1 announcement. “How does human intelligence work, in engineering terms? And how can we use that deep grasp of human intelligence to build wiser and more useful machines, to the benefit of society?”

MIT is poised to lead this work through two linked entities within the MIT Intelligence Quest. One of them, “The Core,” will advance the science and engineering of both human and machine intelligence. A key output of this work will be machine-learning algorithms. At the same time, the MIT Intelligence Quest seeks to advance our understanding of human intelligence by using insights from computer science. The second entity, “The Bridge,” will be dedicated to the application of MIT discoveries in natural and artificial intelligence to all disciplines, and it will host state-of-the-art tools from industry and research labs worldwide. The Bridge will provide a variety of assets to the MIT community, including intelligence technologies, platforms, and infrastructure; education for students, faculty, and staff about AI tools; rich and unique data sets; technical support; and specialized hardware.

MIT Intelligence Quest researchers will also investigate the societal and ethical implications of advanced analytical and predictive tools. There are already active projects and groups at the Institute investigating autonomous systems, media and information quality, labor markets and the work of the future, innovation and the digital economy, and the role of AI in the legal system. MIT has been on the frontier of intelligence research since the 1950s, and now has over 200 principal investigators whose research bears directly on intelligence. Researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and its Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences (BCS) collaborate on a range of projects. MIT is also home to the National Science Foundation–funded Center for Brains, Minds and Machines (CBMM).

The MIT Intelligence Quest will create an organization to connect and amplify existing excellence across labs and centers already engaged in intelligence research. It will also establish shared, central spaces conducive to group work, and its resources will directly support research. Faculty from across the Institute will participate in the MIT Intelligence Quest, including researchers in the Media Lab, the Operations Research Center, the Institute for Data, Systems, and Society, and all five of MIT’s schools. In order to power the MIT Intelligence Quest and achieve results that are consistent with its ambitions, the Institute will raise financial support through corporate sponsorship and philanthropic giving.

The MIT Intelligence Quest will build on the model that was established with the MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab, which was announced in September 2017 and which will be a vital part of the new initiative. MIT researchers will collaborate with each other and with industry on challenges that range in scale from the very broad to the very specific.

“Our quest is meant to power world-changing possibilities,” says Anantha Chandrakasan, dean of the MIT School of Engineering and Vannevar Bush Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. Chandrakasan, in collaboration with Provost Martin Schmidt SM ’83, PhD ’88 and all four of MIT’s other school deans, has led the development and establishment of the MIT Intelligence Quest.

“We imagine preventing deaths from cancer by using deep learning for early detection and personalized treatment,” Chandrakasan continues. “We imagine artificial intelligence in sync with, complementing, and assisting our own intelligence. And we imagine every scientist and engineer having access to human-intelligence-inspired algorithms that open new avenues of discovery in their fields. Researchers across our campus want to push the boundaries of what’s possible.”