MIT is aiming for AI moonshots with Intelligence Quest

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Artificial intelligence has long been a focus for MIT. The school’s been researching the space since the late ’50s, giving rise (and lending its name) to the lab that would ultimately become known as CSAIL. But the Cambridge university thinks it can do more to elevate the rapidly expanding field.

This week, the school announced the launch of the MIT Intelligence Quest, an initiative aimed at leveraging its AI research into something it believes could be game-changing for the category. The school has divided its plan into two distinct categories: “The Core” and “The Bridge.”

“The Core is basically reverse-engineering human intelligence,” dean of the MIT School of Engineering Anantha Chandrakasan tells TechCrunch, “which will give us new insights into developing tools and algorithms, which we can apply to different disciplines. And at the same time, these new computer science techniques can help us with the understanding of the human brain. It’s very tightly linked between cognitive science, near science and computer science.”

The Bridge, meanwhile, is designed to provide access to AI and ML tools across its various disciplines. That includes research from both MIT and other schools, made available to students and staff.

“Many of the products are moonshoots,” explains James DiCarlo, head of the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences. “They involve teams of scientists and engineers working together. It’s essentially a new model and we need folks and resources behind that.”

Funding for the initiative will be provided by a combination of philanthropic donations and partnerships with corporations. But while the school has had blanket partnerships in the past, including, notably, the MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab, the goal here is not to become beholden to any single company. Ideally the school will be able to work alongside a broad range of companies to achieve its large-scale goals.

“Imagine if we can build machine intelligence that grows the way a human does,” adds professor of Cognitive Science and Computation, Josh Tenenbaum. “That starts like a baby and learns like a child. That’s the oldest idea in AI and it’s probably the best idea… But this is a thing we can only take on seriously now and only by combining the science and engineering of intelligence.”

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