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IBM to fund new $240 million AI research centre

The MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab, which will be based at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), will be focused on development of AI for healthcare and cybersecurity.

Over 10 years, the laboratory will focus on four “research pillars”: industrial applications of AI, new hardware, social influence, algorithms to help neural networks move towards more generalised performance, and new hardware, including quantum computing chips.

More than 100 MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab researchers will be based on campus and also work at the nearby Watson Health and Security facilities in Cambridge, MA. MIT was home to one of the world’s first AI labs, and is today home to the Computer Science and AI Laboratory (CSAIL), which consistently produces world-leading research in the field of AI.

IBM has collaborated with MIT for decades. In the 1950s, MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory joined forces with IBM on the Whirlwind Project to develop a new air defence system. In 2016, IBM announced a partnership with MIT’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences to advance the field of computer vision.

The long-term collaboration could give a boost to the company, which has recently become overshadowed by younger tech giants – such as Google, Facebook and Amazon – moving into the AI sector, acquiring start-ups, attracting talent, and forming major academic partnerships. DeepMind, acquired by Google parent company Alphabet in 2014, has a booming research presence at universities around the world, including the University of Oxford, University College London and the University of Alberta, Canada.

Watson, IBM’s famous cognitive system, is capable of natural language processing, and has been trained on extensive datasets which allows the system to perform a huge range of tasks, from managing sports coverage to competing in televised game shows. In February 2013, IBM announced Watson’s first commercial application, Watson for Oncology, would be in assisting in diagnosing and treating lung cancer at a New York City cancer centre.

Despite initial excitement around the introduction of AI to a real hospital, it was reported the cognitive system was struggling to even distinguish between different types of cancer, and failing to generate its own insights. “Watson for Oncology is in their toddler stage,” a clinician told STAT.

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