In what the university is calling the "single largest investment in computing and AI by an American academic institution," the Massachusetts Institute of Technology says it will dedicate a billion dollars to the new initiative. At its center is the new Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing, named for the billionaire CEO and co-founder of Blackstone, who gave $350 million dollars for the new college.
"An overwhelming number of our undergraduates are choosing to major in computer science right now," said Marty Schmidt, the provost of MIT. "40 percent of MIT undergraduates major either in computer science or a joint degree with computer science."
Schmidt says that teaching all of those students was putting a strain on the computer science faculty. As part of the initiative, MIT will hire 50 new faculty members and appoint a dean for the college.
"There is a really significant opportunity," Schmidt said. "Every academic discipline at MIT is being transformed by these advanced computational capabilities." The idea, he said, is to transform not just the way computer science courses are taught, but also teaching and research in other disciplines as well.
"Computation is changing many of our disciplines in new and interesting ways," says Melissa Nobles, dean of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences. "Many of faculty are interested in collaborating with computer scientists." Her hope is that collaborations with the new college can drive more interest and research in the humanities, and perhaps researchers in the humanities can drive new research among the computer scientists and artificial intelligence experts as well.
"Much of higher education is silo-ed, a lot of universities are dealing with that," Nobles says. "This is a really creative way of getting around that and creating something new that is truly collaborative."
In an FAQ put out by the university, MIT acknowledged that AI encompasses a broad range of areas from self-driving cars to robotics. The hope, the university said, is that the college will be a "convening force for all of the fields that center on computing and AI," but its focus may depend on who is named its first dean.
The school also acknowledged the ethical concerns many have around AI, saying that there will be programs exploring the intersections of ethics and computing.
"Advances in computing, and artificial intelligence in particular, have the power to alter the fabric of society. The MIT Schwarzman College of Computing aims to be not only a center of advances in computing, but also a place for teaching and research on relevant policy and ethics — to better ensure that the pioneering technologies of the future are responsibly implemented in support of the greater good," the university said.
The college will open in September of 2019, and will move into its own space in 2022.