IBM makes a 10-year, $240M investment in artificial intelligence research at MIT

IBM’s Watson AI software is best-known for winning at “Jeopardy!” in 2011. (IBM Photo)

IBM is making a 10-year, $240 million investment in artificial intelligence research through a new lab it’s creating in partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The investment will support research by IBM and MIT scientists at the newly created MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab in Cambridge, Mass., the two partners announced today .

“Through this collaboration, we will target innovations that will move us beyond specialized tasks to more general approaches to solving more complex problems, with the added capability of robust, continuous learning,” Dario Gil, IBM Research’s vice president of AI and IBM Q, said in a blog post.

Gil and MIT engineering dean Anantha Chandrakasan will be co-chairs of the lab, which will bring together more than 100 AI scientists, professors and students for joint research into AI hardware and software.

The aim will be to take advantage of big data and find better ways to augment human intelligence, Gil said. Health care and cybersecurity lead the list of potential applications.

In a statement, MIT President L. Rafael Reif said he was “delighted” by the collaboration.

“True breakthroughs are often the result of fresh thinking inspired by new kinds of research teams,” Reif said. “The combined MIT and IBM talent dedicated to this new effort will bring formidable power to a field with staggering potential to advance knowledge and help solve important challenges.”

This isn’t the first IBM-MIT research collaboration: Last year, IBM Research said it would work with MIT neuroscientists to advance the field of machine vision, an important aspect of AI. IBM and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard also have a five-year, $50 million research collaboration on AI and genomics.

Neither is it the only case of a major corporation working with an academic institution on AI. For example,Amazon andMicrosoft have each contributed $10 million to the University of Washington for a new Computer Science & Engineering building on campus, and both companiescollaborate with UW researchers on AI projects.

Artificial intelligence is one of the hottest frontiers in tech – not only for Microsoft, Amazon and IBM, but for Facebook, Google and a host of other companies as well.

Over the past week, two high-profile commentators from vastly different quarters drew attention to the high stakes of the AI race.

During a meeting with students in Yaroslavl, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the development of artificial intelligence raises “colossal opportunities and threats that are difficult to predict now.”

“The one who becomes the leader in this sphere will be the ruler of the world,” Putin said.

Elon Musk, the billionaire CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, took note of Putin’s comments and said many countries, including China and Russia, would soon be vying for AI supremacy, with potential military implications.

“Competition for AI superiority at national level most likely cause of WW3,” Musk tweeted . “May be initiated not by the country leaders, but one of the AI’s, if it decides that a preemptive strike is most probable path to victory.”

However, the power of AI can sometimes be overestimated. Today a STAT investigative report said that IBM’s Watson AI technology “isn’t living up to the lofty expectations IBM created for it” in the field of cancer research.

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