MIT’s $1 billion plan for AI college: What’s at stake?

MIT’s $1 billion plan for AI college: What’s at stake?

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has announced a new college, backed by a $1 billion commitment to AI.

The MIT Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing has been made possible through a foundational gift of $350 million from its namesake. Mr Schwarzman is the chairman, CEO and co-founder of Blackstone, a leading global asset manager.

The college will be headquartered in a new building on the MIT campus and act as an ‘interdisciplinary hub’ (hence the nomenclature ‘college’, rather than ‘school’) across computer science, AI, data science, and related technologies.

It aims to:

  • Reorient MIT to bring the power of computing and AI to all fields of study at the institute, allowing the future of computing and AI to be shaped by insights from other disciplines
  • Create 50 new faculty positions that will be located both within the College and jointly across other departments — 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”
  • Transform education and research in public policy and ethical considerations relevant to computing and AI.

Where will MIT’s $1 billion go?

The estimated $1 billion commitment will pay to construct a new building, with completion expected for 2022, create an endowment to support 50 new faculty positions and fund computing resources to support teaching and research.

Commenting on the announcement, MIT President L. Rafael Reif said:

As computing reshapes our world, MIT intends to help make sure it does so for the good of all. In keeping with the scope of this challenge, we are reshaping MIT. The MIT Schwarzman College of Computing will constitute both a global centre 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.”

Eric Schmidt, former executive chairman of Alphabet and a visiting innovation fellow at MIT, also praised the “obviously human agenda” of the new college. Provost Schmidt has now formed a committee to search for the institution’s first dean.

Internet of Business says

The initiative marks the single largest investment in computing and AI by an American academic institution, and will help position the US as a world leader in preparing for the rapid evolution of computing and AI.

To put it in perspective, $1 billion is only $300 million short of the value of the UK’s entire Sector Deal for AI.

MIT has long been a computing pioneer, having built its reputation in the field since the 1930s (hence Internet of Business’ regular coverage of MIT partnerships and research).

The Schwarzman College of Computing will elevate the institute’s position further, and serve to grow the US’ global stake in the AI industry – bolstered by MIT’s entrepreneurial ethos.

The founding of the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing is the most significant structural change since 1950, when MIT established the Sloan School of Management and the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences.

But this is much more than a restructuring; with this change, MIT seeks to position itself as a key player in the responsible and ethical evolution of technologies that will transform society.

For all the admirable sentiment around solving the world’s greatest challenges with technology, and studying the emerging ethical implications, there is an international tug-of-war between the US and China to determine who will dominate the age of AI.

Given China’s vast investment and data pools, and dominance in cloud and AI patents, the country’s tech giants Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu are rivals to the Big Four in the US – Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon.

AI is no longer simply a subset of computer science. Its influence has spread across industries and academic disciplines. The Schwarzman College’s interdisciplinary ambitions are a nod to this new reality and will be crucial to MIT adapting accordingly.