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MIT Better World

An extended version of this story appeared on MIT News on October 15, 2018.

The initiative marks the single largest investment in computing and AI by an American academic institution and will help position the United States to lead the world in preparing for the rapid evolution of computing and AI.

At the heart of this endeavor will be the new MIT Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing, made possible by a $350 million foundational gift from the chairman, CEO, and cofounder of Blackstone, a leading global asset manager. Schwarzman is an active philanthropist with a history of supporting education, culture, and the arts, among other causes.

The new MIT Schwarzman College of Computing will be an interdisciplinary hub for work in computer science, AI, data science, and related fields.

The College will:

  • reorient MIT to bring the power of computing and AI to all fields of study at MIT, allowing the future of computing and AI to be shaped by insights from all other disciplines;
  • create 50 new faculty positions located both within the college and jointly with other departments across MIT—nearly doubling MIT’s academic capability in computing and AI;
  • give MIT’s five schools a shared structure for collaborative education, research, and innovation in computing and AI;
  • educate students in every discipline to responsibly use and develop AI and computing technologies to help make a better world; and
  • transform education and research in public policy and ethical considerations relevant to computing and AI.

Through the College, MIT seeks to strengthen its position as a key international player in the responsible and ethical evolution of technologies that are poised to fundamentally transform society. Amid a rapidly evolving geopolitical environment that is constantly being reshaped by technology, the college will have significant impact on our nation’s competitiveness and security.

“As computing reshapes our world, MIT intends to help make sure it does so for the good of all,” says MIT President L. Rafael Reif. “In keeping with the scope of this challenge, we are reshaping MIT. The MIT Schwarzman College of Computing will constitute both a global center for computing research and education, and an intellectual foundry for powerful new AI tools. Just as important, the college will equip students and researchers in any discipline to use computing and AI to advance their disciplines and vice versa, as well as to think critically about the human impact of their work. With uncommon insight and generosity, Mr. Schwarzman is enabling a bold agenda that will lead to a better world. I am deeply grateful for his commitment to our shared vision.”

“There is no more important opportunity or challenge facing our nation than to responsibly harness the power of artificial intelligence so that we remain competitive globally and achieve breakthroughs that will improve our entire society,” Schwarzman says. “We face fundamental questions about how to ensure that technological advancements benefit all—especially those most vulnerable to the radical changes AI will inevitably bring to the nature of the workforce. MIT’s initiative will help America solve these challenges and continue to lead on computing and AI throughout the 21st century and beyond.”

Representing the most significant structural change to MIT since the early 1950s, the College will be celebrated with a major public showcase on February 28, and is slated to open this September. Construction of a signature new building is scheduled to be completed in 2022, with the current site of Building 44, on Vassar Street, identified as a preferred location. Fifty new faculty positions will be created: 25 to be appointed to advance computing in the College, and 25 to be appointed jointly in the College and departments across MIT. A new deanship will be established.

The College will teach students the foundations of computing broadly and provide integrated curricula designed to satisfy the high level of interest in majors that cross computer science with other disciplines. It will seek to enable advances along the full spectrum of research—from fundamental, curiosity-driven inquiry to research on market-ready applications.

It will be a place for teaching and research on relevant policy and ethics to better ensure that the technologies of the future are responsibly implemented in support of the greater good. To advance these priorities, the College will develop new curricula; host forums to engage leaders from business, government, academia, and journalism to shape policies around the ethics of AI; encourage scientists, engineers, and social scientists to collaborate on analysis and research; and offer research opportunities, fellowships, and grants in ethics and AI.

In its pursuit of ethical questions, the College will bring together researchers in a wide range of MIT departments, labs, centers, and initiatives, such as the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS); the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL); the Institute for Data, Systems, and Society; the Operations Research Center; The MIT Quest for Intelligence, of which the Center for Brains, Minds and Machines is a signature initiative; the Center for Computational Engineering; and beyond. The MIT Schwarzman College of Computing builds on MIT’s legacy of excellence in computation and the study of intelligence. In the 1950s, MIT professor Marvin Minsky and others created the very idea of artificial intelligence.

Today, EECS is by far the largest academic department at MIT. Forty percent of MIT’s most recent graduating class chose it, or a combination of it and another discipline, as their major. The largest laboratory at MIT is CSAIL, which has its roots in two storied MIT labs: the Artificial Intelligence Lab, established in 1959 to conduct pioneering research across a range of applications, and the Laboratory for Computer Science, established in 1963 to pursue a Department of Defense project for the development of a computer system accessible to a large number of people.

A search is underway for the College’s inaugural dean, conducted by a committee formed by Provost Martin Schmidt SM ’83, PhD ’88. Schmidt is working closely with the chair of the faculty, Susan Silbey, and the dean of the School of Engineering, Anantha Chandrakasan, to define the path forward.

“I am truly excited by the work ahead,” Schmidt says. “The MIT community will give shape and energy to the new College.”