Gartner Labels AI a Megatrend, MIT Plans AI-Centric College

According to Gartner Research vice president Brian Burke, the democratization of AI is one of the five megatrends impacting emerging technologies. Although AI is currently in the “hype” stage of its evolution, to be followed by disillusionment, by 2020 it is expected to shape 80 percent of new technologies. Pursuant to that prediction, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) released plans for a college of artificial intelligence to be built with $1 billion in investment, of which two-thirds has already been raised.

The Wall Street Journal reports that, “the AI spectrum includes cloud-based platforms, conversational technologies, virtual assistants, many-layered deep neural networks, advanced autonomous cars and flying vehicles, autonomous and smart robots, and the most far-reaching idea of all, general artificial intelligence.”

“R2-D2 is still a long way off,” said Burke, who added that, “a general AI that can solve a broad range of problems the way people do is a long way off.” But AI is easier to implement for “certain specific tasks such as image and video analysis, facial recognition, speaker recognition, speech to text conversion and vice versa” as well as “text analytics, translation, content moderation, and powering conversational bots that respond to natural language and can answer human questions.”

As AI evolves, it is likely to “be integrated into an ever-expanding range of applications through application programming interfaces, or APIs, the pieces of code that allow one application to connect with another.” In addition to AI, Gartner’s other megatrends are “digitalized ecosystems such as blockchain and the Internet of Things, do-it-yourself biohacking such as exoskeletons, transparently immersive experiences including the smart workspace and the connected home, and ubiquitous infrastructure such as next-generation 5G mobile networks and quantum computing.”

According to The New York Times, MIT’s new AI college is already funded by a “linchpin gift of $350 million” from Blackstone Group chief executive Stephen A. Schwarzman, for whom the college will be named. The MIT Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing, will “create 50 new faculty positions and many more fellowships for graduate students,” and will open in fall 2019, housed in other buildings, “before moving into its own new space in 2022.”

MIT president L. Rafael Reif stated that the college’s goal is to “educate the bilinguals of the future,” defining bilinguals as “people in fields like biology, chemistry, politics, history and linguistics who are also skilled in the techniques of modern computing that can be applied to them.” Of the 50 faculty positions, half will “focus on advancing computer science, and the other half will be jointly appointed by the college and by other departments across MIT.”

“We need to rewire how we hire and promote faculty,” said MIT provost Martin Schmidt, addressing the new college’s attempt to “bake” rather than “staple” computer science into the curriculum. The college will grant degrees, although the name of those degrees is as of yet undecided.

MIT dean of the School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences Melissa Nobles stated the college “offers the possibility of a renewal for humanities studies” at MIT, and both Google former executive chair Eric Schmidt, currently a visiting innovation fellow at MIT, and Schwarzman point out that the college will be a major resource to drive AI research.