IBM Commits $240 Million to Joint AI Lab with MIT

IBM and MIT announced they will team up to create a new AI lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts that will advance technologies driving artificial intelligence.

MIT President L. Rafael Reif, left, and John Kelly III, IBM senior vice president, Cognitive Solutions and Research, shake hands at the conclusion of a signing ceremony establishing the new MIT–IBM Watson AI Lab. 

Credit: Jake Belcher







For its part, IBM has committed to spend $240 Million over the next 10 years to fund the effort. The money is aimed at supporting AI research undertaken by IBM and MIT scientists, which is expected to include more than 100 people. In a joint press release issued by both organizations, they state that the collaboration will “advance AI hardware, software, and algorithms related to deep learning and other areas; increase AI’s impact on industries, such as health care and cybersecurity; and explore the economic and ethical implications of AI on society.”

The lab partnership reflects the realization that artificial intelligence will become the definitive computing technology going forward. Although IBM has a good deal of in-house AI talent and technologies to draw from, competitors like Goggle, Microsoft, Facebook, Baidu, and others are rapidly advancing their technologies in this realm. Since IBM can’t buy MIT, leveraging its academic talent is the next best thing.

John Kelly III, IBM senior vice president, Cognitive Solutions and Research apparently thinks the partnership will propel his company and MIT to the head of the pack. “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,” he said.

The Cambridge facility will be officially known as the MIT–IBM Watson AI Lab, and will be co-located with the IBM Watson Health and IBM Security headquarters in Kendall Square, and on the nearby MIT campus. Although, the lab will sport the IBM Watson moniker, the work will extend well beyond that particular technology. More generally, the collaboration will focus on four main areas as it relates to artificial intelligence: algorithms, hardware, applications, and societal implications.

The hardware research will encompass, among other things, quantum computing, a domain that both IBM and MIT have a good deal of expertise in, and one that is expected to be a disruptive technology in AI and related areas. On the application side, there will be a lot of focus health care, an area that IBM is aggressively pursuing under its Watson banner. In this case, the joint collaboration will include “the security and privacy of medical data, personalization of health care, image analysis, and the optimum treatment paths for specific patients.”

The lab will be co-chaired by Dario Gil, IBM Research VP of AI and IBM Q, and Anantha P. Chandrakasan, dean of MIT’s School of Engineering. In an extended interview on the new lab, Chandrakasan said the effort will drive academic research and open source material, while also developing technology that can be commercially licensed. In addition, the work is intended to help launch startups, which will take advantage of The Engine, MIT’s new venture firm. “We hope to use this new lab as a template for many other interactions with industry,” said Chandrakasan.

He notes that while much of the focus will be on advancing deep learning technology, they also intend to use AI to “understand and enhance human intelligence.” Related to that that, lab scientists will work to develop ways to ensure that AI systems behave ethically and avoid data bias.

The new lab builds upon a long-standing relationship between IBM and MIT, which goes back at least 10 years. Recent collaborations include a partnership between IBM and MIT’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences to advance on machine vision technology. That effort, which was initiated in 2016, brought together computer scientists and cognitive researchers from both organizations to explore how unsupervised machine learning could be employed in the audio-visual domain. In that same year, IBM and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard kicked off a $50 million research effort aimed at how AI could be applied to cancer genomics.

More information on the lab partnership can be had here.


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