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IBM Ponies Up $240 Million For Watson Artificial Intelligence Lab at MIT

Sep 07, 2017

IBM said on Thursday it will spend $240 million over the next decade to fund a new artificial intelligence research lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The resulting MIT–IBM Watson AI Lab will focus on a handful of key AI areas including the development of new "deep learning" algorithms. Deep learning is a subset of AI that aims to bring human-like learning capabilities to computers so they can operate more autonomously.

The Cambridge, Mass.-based lab will be led by Dario Gil, vice president of AI for IBM Research and Anantha Chandrakasan, dean of MIT's engineering school. It will draw upon about 100 researchers from IBM (ibm) itself and the university.

Some of those researchers may cross over from existing MIT groups like the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL), Media Lab, Brain and Cognitive Sciences Lab, and the Institute for Data Systems and Society, Chandrakasan said via email. Asked whether researchers must use IBM technology in their work, he said they can select the most appropriate technology for their needs.

While there have been other instances of company-funded research at MIT—Toyota for example has sponsored work on autonomous vehicles within CSAIL—this is the first time that a single company has underwritten an entire laboratory at the university.

Related: Does IBM Watson Fall Victim to Hype?

IBM has long touted Watson, which first gained prominence in 2011 by beating two human champions on Jeopardy, as a key priority for the company and has backed many projects to put the technology to use. It partnered with the Broad Institute on cancer drug research, for example and with Cornell University on food safety. Other Watson work is conducted at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the University of Michigan.

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But IBM faces many challengers in its race to make AI useful for real-world jobs. Google (goog), Microsoft (msft), Amazon (amzn) and others are pouring resources into making their software smarter and better able to adapt on its own to changing requirements.

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