Harvard University and MIT have received a $25 million grant to study a question that's most often the domain of science fiction – artificial intelligence.
The five-year grant, awarded today by the National Science Foundation (NSF) through its Science and Technology Center Integrated Partnership program, will be used to establish the Center for Brains, Minds and Machines (CBMM).
The joint Harvard-MIT program is aimed at answering some of the most challenging questions about intelligence and computing – what is intelligence, how does the brain create it and how can it be – if it can at all – be replicated in machines.
"Our quest for the basis of intelligence is an ancient one, bolstered in recent years by our ability to create machines that have domain-specific abilities, such as Google's self-driving car, Watson or Siri," said L. Mahadevan, the Lola England de Valpine Professor of Applied Mathematics, of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, and of Physics, who serve as the center's Coordinator for Knowledge Transfer.
"But we are still some way from understanding the broad basis for human intelligence," he continued. "This new center will refocus our collective efforts at trying to solve this question from multiple perspectives, from understanding the development of intelligence in children, to the characterization of intelligence in social situations to the mathematical and computational underpinnings of intelligence, while simultaneously building the next generation of intelligent devices."
In addition to fostering work between institutions, the center's research themes – the integration of intelligence, including vision, language and motor skills; circuits for intelligence, which will span research in neurobiology and electrical engineering; the development of intelligence in children; social intelligence; and a theoretical platform to understand the computational strategies used by the brain in non verbal perception – encourage work across multiple disciplines.
"Those five thrusts really do fit together, in the sense that they cover what we think are the biggest challenges facing us when we try to develop a computational understanding of what intelligence is all about," says Patrick Winston, the Ford Foundation Professor of Engineering at MIT, who will serve as research coordinator for CBMM.
Headquartered at MIT, CBMM will be, like all the NSF centers, a multi-institution collaboration. Of the 20 faculty members currently affiliated with the center, 10 are from MIT, five are from Harvard University, and one each from Cornell, Rockfeller, UCLA, Stanford and the Allen Institute. The center will be led by MIT's Tomaso Poggio, the Eugene McDermott Professor at the Department of Brain Sciences (BCS), a member of the McGovern Institute and a principal investigator at CSAIL.
Industrial partners will include Google, Microsoft, IBM, MobilEye, Orcam, Boston Dynamics, Willow Garage, Deep Minds, Rethink Robotics.; international partners are IIT (Italy), Max Planck Institute (Germany), City University, Hong Kong, National Center for Biological Sciences (India), Weizman Institute and Hebrew University (Israel).
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