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IBM to invest $240m in AI research at MIT

Steve Rogerson
September 13, 2017
IBM plans to make a ten-year, $240m investment to create an artificial intelligence laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab will carry out fundamental AI research and seek to propel scientific breakthroughs that unlock the potential of AI. The collaboration aims to advance AI hardware, software and algorithms related to deep learning and other areas, increase
AIs impact on industries, such as health care and cyber security, and explore the economic and ethical implications of AI on society. The investment in the laboratory will support research by IBM and MIT scientists.
The lab will be one of the largest long-term university-industry AI collaborations to date, mobilising the talent of more than 100 AI scientists, professors and students to pursue joint research at IBM's Research Lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and on the neighbouring MIT campus.
"The field of artificial intelligence has experienced incredible growth and progress over the past decades," said John Kelly, IBM senior vice president. “Yet today's AI systems, as remarkable as they are, will require new innovations to tackle increasingly difficult real-world problems to improve our work and live. The extremely broad and deep technical capabilities and talent at MIT and IBM are unmatched, and will lead the field of AI for at least the next decade."
The laboratory will be co-chaired by IBM Research VP of AI and IBM Q Dario Gil, and Anantha Chandrakasan, dean of MIT's school of engineering. IBM and MIT plan to issue a call for proposals to MIT researchers and IBM scientists to submit their ideas for joint research to push the boundaries in AI science and technology in several areas, including:

  • AI algorithms: Developing algorithms to expand capabilities in machine learning and reasoning. Researchers will create AI systems that move beyond specialised tasks to tackle more complex problems, and benefit from robust, continuous learning. Researchers will invent algorithms that can not only leverage big data when available, but also learn from limited data to augment human intelligence.
  • Physics of AI: Investigating AI hardware materials, devices and architectures that will support future analogue computational approaches to AI model training and deployment, as well as the intersection of quantum computing and machine learning. The latter involves using AI to help characterise and improve quantum devices, and also researching the use of quantum computing to optimise and speed up machine-learning algorithms and other AI applications.
  • Application of AI to industries: Given its location in IBM Watson Health and IBM Security headquarters and Kendall Square, a global hub of biomedical innovation, the lab will develop applications of AI for professional use, including fields such as health care and cyber security. The collaboration will explore the use of AI in areas such as the security and privacy of medical data, personalisation of healthcare, image analysis, and the optimum treatment paths for specific patients.
  • Advancing shared prosperity through AI: The MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab will explore how AI can deliver economic and societal benefits to a broader range of people, nations and enterprises. The lab will study the economic implications of AI and investigate how AI can improve prosperity and help individuals achieve more in their lives.
In addition to IBM's plan to produce innovations that advance the frontiers of AI, a distinct objective of the lab is to encourage MIT faculty and students to launch companies that will focus on commercialising AI inventions and technologies that are developed at the lab. The lab's scientists will publish their work, contribute to the release of open source material, and foster an adherence to the ethical application of AI.
"I am delighted by this new collaboration," says MIT president Rafael Reif. "True breakthroughs are often the result of fresh thinking inspired by new kinds of research teams. The combined MIT and IBM talent dedicated to this new effort will bring formidable power to a field with staggering potential to advance knowledge and help solve important challenges."
Both MIT and IBM have been pioneers in artificial intelligence research, and the new AI lab builds on a decades-long research relationship between the two. In 2016, IBM Research announced a multi-year collaboration with MIT's Department of Brain & Cognitive Sciences to advance the scientific field of machine vision, a core aspect of artificial intelligence. The collaboration has brought together leading brain, cognitive, and computer scientists to conduct research in the field of unsupervised machine understanding of audio-visual streams of data, using insights from next-generation models of the brain to inform advances in machine vision. In addition, IBM and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard have established a five-year, $50m research collaboration on AI and genomics.
MIT researchers were among those who helped coin and popularise the phrase "artificial intelligence" in the 1950s. MIT pushed several advances in the coming decades, from neural networks to data encryption to quantum computing to crowdsourcing. Marvin Minsky, a founder of the discipline, collaborated on building the first artificial neural network and he, along with Seymour Papert, advanced learning algorithms. Currently, the Computer Science & Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, the Media Lab, the Department of Brain & Cognitive Sciences, and the MIT Institute for Data, Systems & Society serve as connected hubs for AI and related research at MIT.