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MIT launches major project to understand human and machine intelligence

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Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has launched an ambitious project which aims to better comprehend the nature of intelligence and develop new machine-learning tools.

The announcement of the project, named ‘MIT Intelligence Quest’ (MIT IQ) was made in a letter written by MIT President L. Rafael Reif.

“Today we set out to answer two big questions. How does human intelligence work, in engineering terms? And how can we use that deep grasp of human intelligence to build wiser and more useful machines to the benefit of society?” President Reif wrote.

The interdisciplinary project aims to “discover the foundations of human intelligence” in order to accelerate the development of new technologies that can benefit humanity. MIT IQ researchers will be encouraged to consider the societal and ethical implications of their work.

There will be two main bodies within the project: The Core (focusing on basic research into human and machine intelligence) and The Bridge (focusing on the practical application of these discoveries).

It is important, MIT IQ leaders have said, that in order to “revolutionise” the field of artificial intelligence, researchers continue to study the brain. During the project, scientists and engineers will build more sophisticated models of the brain which give new insights into how intelligent behaviour arises.

“Discovering how the brain works in the language of engineers will not only lead to transformative AI, it will also illuminate entirely new way to repair, educate and augment our own minds,” said Professor James DiCarlo, head of the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT.

Meanwhile, MIT leaders hope that The Bridge may provide technologies that could contribute to infrastructure, education, autonomous systems, medical diagnostics and other fields.

“We imagine preventing deaths from cancer by using deep leanring for early detection and personalised treatment,” said Professor Anantha Chandrakasan, dean of the school of engineering.

“We imagine artificial intelligence in sync with, complementing and assisting our own intelligence. And we imagine every scientist and engineer having access to human intelligence-inspired algorithms that open new avenues of discovery in their fields.”

MIT has a long history in intelligence research; MIT academics Marvin Minsky and John McCarthy – major figures in the early field of artificial intelligence – established the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), one of the world’s largest academic AI research facilities. Along with CSAIL, MIT boasts several units dedicated to cognitive sciences and a dedicated Centre for Brains, Minds and Machines.

MIT IQ will be funded with “hundreds of millions of dollars” via public support, corporate sponsorship and philanthropic gifts. It will build on the collaboration model established with its joint venture with IBM Watson.

“[Through MIT IQ], MIT is placing a bet on the central importance of intelligence research to meeting the needs of humanity,” said President Reif.

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