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MIT is investing $1 billion in an AI college

MIT is investing $1 billion in an AI college


One of the most sizable commitments yet to building out the talent-scarce AI field

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The initiative will establish a new cross-disciplinary college of computing.
The initiative will establish a new cross-disciplinary college of computing.
Photo by Christopher Harting / MIT

Ever since the beginning of the AI boom in the early 2010s, there’s been a corresponding drought in talented AI developers and researchers. The way to fix this is to educate more of them, and today, MIT announced a $1 billion initiative to do exactly that: it will establish a new college of computing to train the next generation of machine learning mavens.

Importantly, the college isn’t just about training AI skills. Instead, it will focus on what MIT president L. Rafael Reif calls “the bilinguals of the future.” By that, he means students in fields like biology, chemistry, physics, politics, history, and linguistics who also know how to apply machine learning to these disciplines. (Presumably, Reif feels safe borrowing the term “bilingual” because, in the future, AI will be doing all the translation anyway.)

interdisciplinary learning should mean better, saner artificial intelligence

Two-thirds of the planned $1 billion commitment has been raised so far, with $350 million coming from Stephen A. Schwarzman, CEO of the private equity firm Blackstone. The new college will be named after Schwarzman, and it will include 50 new faculty positions, half of which will focus solely on computer science, while the rest are jointly appointed by the college and other MIT departments. The college is scheduled to open in September 2019, and its new building is planned to be completed in 2022.

MIT is also angling the college as an ethically minded enterprise; one of its stated aims is to research “ethical considerations relevant to computing and AI.” It’s a frequent criticism of contemporary AI efforts that researchers sometimes ignore the history and lessons of the fields they are trying to “disrupt.” More collaboration should help.

“As computing reshapes our world, MIT intends to help make sure it does so for the good of all,” said Reif in a press statement. “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.”