In October, MIT announced a new $1 billion initiative to address the global opportunities and challenges in computing and artificial intelligence—the single largest investment in computing and AI by an American academic institution.
At the heart of this endeavor will be the new MIT Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing, made possible by a $350 million gift from Schwarzman, the chairman, CEO, and cofounder of Blackstone, a global private equity and asset management firm. Its establishment represents the most significant structural change to MIT since the early 1950s, when the schools for management and for the humanities and social sciences were launched.
Headquartered in a new building on campus, the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing will be an interdisciplinary hub for work in computer science, AI, data science, and related fields. The idea is to bring the power of computing and AI to all fields of study in all five schools at MIT, and to allow the future of computing and AI to be shaped by insights from all other disciplines. In addition to providing a shared structure for collaborative education, research, and responsible innovation in computing and AI, the college will nearly double MIT’s academic capability in those two areas. And it will transform education and research in public policy and the ethics of computing and AI.
“As computing reshapes our world, MIT intends to help make sure it does so for the good of all,” says 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.”
The college is slated to open in September 2019, with the new building scheduled to be completed in 2022. Its location and architect have yet to be chosen. A new deanship and 50 new faculty positions will be created: 25 to advance computing in the college itself, and 25 “bridge” faculty to be appointed jointly in the college and departments across MIT. With this new structure, MIT aims to help students become “bilingual”—adept in computing as well as in their primary field.
“By design, the college will not be a silo,” says Provost Martin Schmidt. “It will be connective tissue for the whole Institute.”
The Institute launches a college
The Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS), the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), the Institute for Data, Systems, and Society (IDSS), and the MIT Quest for Intelligence are all expected to become part of the new college; other units may join. EECS will continue to have a strong relationship with the School of Engineering.
The MIT Schwarzman College will build on MIT’s legacy of excellence in computation and the study of intelligence. (See time line.) “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. “As one of the world leaders in technological innovation, MIT has the right expertise and the right values to serve as the ‘true north’ of AI in pursuit of the answers we urgently need.”
The new college is meant to be not only a center of innovation in computing but also a place for teaching and research on relevant policy and ethics to better ensure that the groundbreaking technologies of the future are responsibly implemented in support of the greater good.
“Computing is no longer the domain of the experts alone. It’s everywhere, and it needs to be understood and mastered by almost everyone,” Reif says. “In that context, for a host of reasons, society is uneasy about technology—and at MIT, that’s a signal we must take very seriously. Technological advancements must go hand in hand with the development of ethical guidelines that anticipate the risks of such enormously powerful innovations. This is why we must make sure that the leaders we graduate offer the world not only technological wizardry but also human wisdom—the cultural, ethical, and historical consciousness to use technology for the common good.”
Like Reif, Schwarzman is convinced that understanding the ethical implications of AI will be critical. “Advances in computing—and in AI in particular—have increasing power to alter the fabric of society,” he says. “But left unchecked, these technologies could ultimately hurt more people than they help. We need to do everything we can to ensure all Americans can share in AI’s development.”
On top of Schwarzman’s gift, MIT has raised an additional $300 million for the initiative, totaling $650 million of the $1 billion required. That amount is needed to fund construction of the new building, an endowment for the 50 new faculty positions, and computing resources to support teaching and research in the college and across MIT. As fund-raising continues, Schmidt has formed a committee to search for the inaugural dean and will work closely with a task force, the chair of the faculty, and the dean of the School of Engineering to bring the project to fruition.