Starting the new computing era

Starting the new computing era

Dan Huttenlocher worked closely with Professor Victor Zue as a graduate student at the MIT AI Lab (now the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab) doing his master’s thesis on speech recognition. Known for pioneering the development of systems that allow a user to interact with computers using spoken language, Zue traveled frequently to Asia, where most of the early research on speech recognition was done in the 1980s. Huttenlocher, as he recalls, accompanied his professor from time to time on these trips, many of which involved interactions with members of the MIT Industrial Liaison Program. According to Huttenlocher, «It was a tremendous opportunity, and that’s a big part of what fueled my interest in engaging with companies and industry, in addition to the academic aspect of research.»

Huttenlocher went on to earn a doctorate in computer vision at the Institute and has since embarked on a career spanning academia, industry and philanthropy. In addition to cementing his status as a respected academic researcher, he spent 12 years as a scientist at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center before leaving to start a financial technology company. He served on the boards of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation from 2010-22 (including as president from 2018) and served on the boards of Amazon.com and Corning, Inc. He also helped found Cornell. Tech is a technology, business, law and design campus built by Cornell University in New York City. There, he was the school’s first dean and associate vice president, guiding efforts to bring industry and computing together to improve New York’s tech ecosystem.

Today, Huttenlocher serves as the inaugural dean of the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing. To highlight the importance of this moment in time and the need for an interdisciplinary computing center such as a computing college, he refers to the often quoted. prediction this software is ingested and disrupts traditional industry structures. Huttenlocher believes that while this insight is true, what we are experiencing right now is something different, greater, with enormous implications for humanity. Computing as a whole – not just software, but hardware, algorithms and machine learning – has evolved to the point where it redefines our approach to problem solving in nearly every industry sector, discipline and area of ​​research. He suggests that it also redefines the reality we experience.

Under Huttenlocher’s direction, the college is both recognizing and responding to a new era of computing. It explores ways to support and at the same time lead the technological changes that are reshaping the world. A two-pronged, interdisciplinary approach is key to the agenda, according to Huttenlocher. “We want to take advantage of the front-line results in computing and infuse them with other disciplines,” he says. «This means helping non-computing departments expand into computing, but we also want to help expand computing areas into other disciplines.» To achieve this, Huttenlocher and the college aim to forge strong links and collaborations in education and research between computing and a broad range of disciplines at MIT across all five schools, departments and programs at the undergraduate and graduate level.

In terms of operations, the college is not yet three years old, but Huttenlocher has already overseen the rollout of several programs and initiatives aimed at fusing computing with other disciplines. MIT has committed to creating 50 new faculty positions for the college: 25 associate positions, 25 based in computer science and artificial intelligence, and 25 in other academic departments that are not primarily focused on computing. So far, it has recruited 25 new faculty members, half a dozen in associate positions.

It also overlooked the development of Common Ground for Computing Education, a platform that connects experts from departments across the Institute to develop and teach. new coursesand start programs that blend informatics with other disciplines. It aims to take advantage of the ubiquity of computing with a coordinated approach to computing education at the institute. Current common ground topic offerings include «Interactive data visualization and society», «Solving real-world problems with optimization and computational imaging: From physics to algorithms» and «Julia: Solving real-world problems with computation».

Meanwhile, Social and Ethical Responsibilities of Computing (SERC) is a cross-cutting initiative that promotes responsible technology development and deployment by combining insights and methods from the humanities and social sciences with an emphasis on social responsibility. «SERC brings together multiple perspectives of social scientists and humanists, engineers and computer scientists because understanding the social and ethical challenges of computing is about combining expertise in these disciplines,» Huttenlocher said. The initiative is based on a clearly defined framework of teaching, research, and engagement designed to capitalize on the broad challenges and opportunities associated with computing while fostering what it calls «habits of responsible mind and action» in MIT students who create and implement computing technologies. Proving in demand and impact, in 2021 more than 2,100 students enrolled in courses SERC worked with instructors to incorporate social and ethical issues into the curriculum.

In his book, «The Age of AI: And Our Human Future» (Little, Brown, 2021), co-authored with Henry Kissinger and Eric Schmidt, Huttenlocher explores how artificial intelligence is fundamentally changing the way we see ourselves as human beings. beings, our role in society, how we perceive the world around us, and the need for interdisciplinary collaboration to define the future. Considering what he and his colleagues have accomplished in college in such a short time, Huttenlocher says he is impressed and proud of what many at MIT have already contributed. But it’s far from over: «I believe we’ve now reached a point where we’re starting to make an impact in parts of MIT, but we’re working for broad impact, a fusion of computing and disciplines across the Institute – that’s what the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing desires.» says.

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