Data and computing are already having a major impact on disciplines like the humanities, and machine learning and AI may have an even bigger one. Rafael Reif, the president of MIT, said in an announcement that the new approach was necessary because of the way computing, data, and AI are “reshaping the world,” and he added that students and researchers will be taught to use AI in their disciplines from first principles, instead of dividing their time between computer science and other departments. “Computing is no longer the domain of the experts alone,” Reif said. “It’s everywhere, and it needs to be understood and mastered by almost everyone.”
One noteworthy function of the new college will be encouraging students and researchers to think about the potential impact of computing and AI. This could prove increasingly important as the technology spreads. Computing is already affecting many areas of work. Big data has proved a key factor in influencing political views. And machine learning is beginning to affect everything from hiring to sentencing.
MIT has already made several big commitments to AI over the past year or so. Earlier this year, the school announced an initiative, called the Quest for Intelligence, that aims to make breakthroughs in AI by bringing together researchers from cognitive science and neuroscience as well as computer science.
The Quest for Intelligence addresses two fundamental questions: How does human intelligence work, in engineering terms? And how can we use that deep grasp of human intelligence to build wiser and more useful machines, to the benefit of society? MIT is developing customized AI tools for non-AI researchers, which could accelerate progress in many fields and eventually spin off technological tools that can positively influence society. More than 200 MIT investigators already work directly on the science and engineering of intelligence. The Quest will create a broad community of forward-looking companies and individuals from around the world, seeking to unlock the nature of intelligence and harness it to make a better world.
The new college of computing is being built with $350 million in funding from Stephen A. Schwarzman, the CEO and cofounder of Blackstone, a private equity firm. MIT’s new Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing will create 50 new faculty positions and numerous fellowships for graduate students. The school will open next September. It is the largest financial investment in AI by any US academic institution to date.