Major donation bankrolls MIT’s $1 billion AI research drive

$350 million gift from investor Stephen Schwarzman aims to deeply integrate computer science knowledge with expertise in ethics and other realms of social science

October 15, 2018

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is bolstering its investment in research related to artificial intelligence, announcing a $1 billion (£760 million) investment to study AI in computer science and fields well beyond it.

The expansion will include 50 new faculty positions and a new facility, scheduled for completion in 2020 and named after Stephen Schwarzman, head of the investment firm Blackstone, who is contributing $350 million towards it.

The new MIT Schwarzman College of Computing is scheduled to open in September 2019 in existing space on the MIT campus while awaiting construction of its new building.

MIT described the initiative as being driven by talks between Mr Schwarzman and MIT’s president, L. Rafael Reif, aimed at finding ways of ensuring that the development of artificial intelligence is deeply intertwined with expertise in ethics and other realms of social science.

“By design, the college will not be a silo,” MIT's provost, Martin Schmidt, a professor of electrical engineering, said in a statement outlining the venture. “It will be connective tissue for the whole institute.”

Professor Schmidt has formed a committee to find the college’s inaugural dean. He also is seeking input from the MIT community on specific plans for the college, although he described the importance of using the college to overhaul traditional hiring and promotion practices.

MIT described a goal of embracing rather than overlooking potential faculty whose combination of skills in computers and humanities can often leave them struggling to find a comfortable academic home at many universities. MIT similarly plans to tightly integrate multiple disciplines in its student majors at the new college.

Referring to people with a synthesis of skills, Professor Reif told The New York Times that the goal of the new college was to “educate the bilinguals of the future”.

Electrical engineering and computer science is currently MIT’s largest academic department, accounting for 40 per cent of MIT’s most recent graduating class.

Mr Schwarzman, with a net worth of $12.8 billion, has previously made major gifts to numerous institutions, including Yale University and Tsinghua University in Beijing, according to Bloomberg News. With the gift to MIT, the institute now has raised $650 million towards the $1 billion needed for the new college. MIT’s governing board approved the plan on 5 October.

The new college is part of a continuing expansion of MIT, which sits fourth in Times Higher Education’s World University Rankings. MIT earlier this month broke ground on the latest addition to a six-building complex in the Kendall Square neighbourhood of Cambridge – just north of Boston – that is becoming a major destination for companies in technological areas that include life sciences and advanced manufacturing.

paul.basken@timeshighereducation.com

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