Home Artificial Intelligence Ushering in a recent era of computing

Ushering in a recent era of computing

Ushering in a recent era of computing

As a graduate student doing his master’s thesis on speech recognition on the MIT AI Lab (now the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory), Dan Huttenlocher worked closely with Professor Victor Zue. Well-known for pioneering the event of systems that enable an user to interact with computers using spoken language, Zue traveled incessantly to Asia — where much of the early research in speech recognition happened through the Nineteen Eighties. Huttenlocher occasionally accompanied his professor on these trips, a lot of which involved interactions with members of MIT Industrial Liaison Program, as he recalls. “It was an incredible opportunity,” in line with Huttenlocher, “and it was a big a part of what built my interest in engaging with firms and industry along with the educational side of research.” 

Huttenlocher went on to earn his PhD in computer vision on the Institute and has since launched into a profession that encompasses academia, industry, and the philanthropic sector. Along with solidifying his status as an esteemed researcher in the educational realm, he spent 12 years as a scientist at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center before leaving to co-found a financial technology company. He served on the board of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation from 2010-22 (including as chair starting in 2018), and serves on the boards of directors at Amazon.com and Corning, Inc. He also helped found Cornell Tech, the technology, business, law, and design campus in Latest York City built by Cornell University. There, he was the college’s first dean and vice provost, guiding its efforts to tie together industry and computing to boost Latest York’s tech ecosystem.  

Today, Huttenlocher serves because the inaugural dean at MIT Schwarzman College of Computing. To focus on the importance of this moment in time, and the necessity for an interdisciplinary computing hub like the school of computing, he references the oft-cited prediction that software would gobble up and disrupt traditional industry structures. Huttenlocher believes that while this insight was right, what we’re experiencing now’s something different, greater, with vast implications for humanity. Computing on the entire — not only software but additionally hardware, algorithms, and machine learning — has evolved to the purpose where it’s redefining our approach to problem-solving in nearly every industry sector, discipline, and area of research. This, he suggests, can be redefining reality as we experience it.  

With Huttenlocher steering, the school is each recognition and response to a recent era of computing. It explores ways to support, but additionally to guide, the technological changes which might be reshaping the world. A bidirectional, interdisciplinary approach is essential to the agenda, in line with Huttenlocher. “We wish to harness the forefront of ends in computing and infuse them with the opposite disciplines,” he says. “This implies helping departments outside of computing stretch toward computing, but we also wish to help the computing fields to stretch toward the opposite disciplines.” To perform this, Huttenlocher and the school aim to forge strong ties and collaborations in education and research between computing and a broad range of disciplines at MIT, across all five schools, departments, and programs on the graduate and the undergraduate levels. 

From an operations standpoint, the school shouldn’t be yet three years old, but Huttenlocher has already overseen the rollout of several programs and initiatives that construct toward the infusion of computing with other disciplines. MIT committed to the creation of fifty recent faculty positions for the school: 25 in computer science and artificial intelligence, and 25 shared positions rooted in other academic departments not primarily focused on computing. To date, it has hired 25 recent faculty members with a half-dozen in shared positions.    

He has also overseen the event of Common Ground for Computing Education, a platform that unites experts from departments across the Institute to develop and teach recent courses and launch programs that mix computing with the opposite disciplines. It goals to capitalize on the ubiquity of computing through a coordinated approach to computing education on the Institute. Current common ground subject offerings include “Interactive data visualization and society,” “Solving real-world problems with optimization and computational imaging: Physics to algorithms,” and “Julia: Solving real-world problems with computation.” 

The Social and Ethical Responsibilities of Computing (SERC), meanwhile, is a cross-cutting initiative that encourages responsible technology development and deployment by incorporating insights and methods from the humanities and social sciences with an emphasis on social responsibility. “SERC brings together multiple viewpoints — social scientists and humanists, engineers and computer scientists — because a lot of understanding the societal and ethical challenges of computing is about combining expertise across these disciplines,” says Huttenlocher. The initiative relies on a clearly defined teaching, research, and engagement framework designed to evaluate the broad challenges and opportunities related to computing while fostering what it refers to as “responsible habits of mind and motion” in MIT students who create and deploy computing technologies. Proving demand and impact, in 2021 greater than 2,100 students were enrolled in subjects during which SERC worked with instructors to include social and ethical issues into the syllabus. 

In his book, “The Age of AI: And Our Human Future” (Little, Brown, 2021), co-authored with Henry Kissinger and Eric Schmidt, Huttenlocher explores the ways during which artificial intelligence is fundamentally changing how we view ourselves as human beings, our role in society, how we perceive the world around us, and the necessity for collaboration across disciplines to define the longer term. Reflecting on what he and his colleagues have been in a position to accomplish at the school in such a brief timeframe, Huttenlocher says he’s impressed with and happy with what so many at MIT have already contributed to. But that the work is removed from finished: “I feel are actually attending to the purpose where we’re beginning to have impacts in parts of MIT, but we’re working toward broad impact, an infusion between computing and the disciplines across the Institute — that’s the aspiration of MIT Schwarzman College of Computing,” he says.  


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