IBM will spend $240 million to fund a Watson-branded AI research lab at MIT, CNBC reports. At the facility, MIT and IBM researchers will collaborate to create AI algorithms, optimize AI hardware, study the societal implications of AI, and apply AI to the business world.
Researchers will work at the MIT campus as well as at IBM’s nearby Watson Health and Securities Center.
Tech companies are increasingly partnering with institutions of higher learning to develop and explore AI technology. DeepMind, an Alphabet subsidiary dedicated to AI research, has announced plans to open a research facility in Edmonton, Canada, at which the company will collaborate with researchers from the University of Alberta.
Alphabet says “more than a dozen [University of Alberta] graduates have joined…DeepMind.” DeepMind has sponsored the University’s machine learning lab.
The University of Alberta program marks DeepMind’s first expansion outside of the United Kingdom.
According to CNBC, Alphabet and Microsoft have both announced intentions to fund research at McGill University and the University of Montreal, both of which are located in Montreal. The combined total of the two tech giants’ contributions is less than $10 million.
As artificial intelligence technology becomes more viable in a widening array of business sectors, tech companies are increasing their focus on the field, notes Dario Gil, vice president of AI and Q (for quantum) at IBM, per CNBC.
“AI as a field has been going on for many decades, but it is quite obvious right now it has raised to a level of centrality for every major technology company, including us and frankly every other business and area,” Gill told CNBC.
Research at the new IBM-MIT facility will center around the cyber security and healthcare fields. In the healthcare sector, IBM says it has already developed technology by which Watson can analyze “genetic testing results” to improve the precision of cancer medication. Watson also has the potential to discover new drugs that might aid patients who are resistant to established treatments, according to IBM.
But, some say Watson has thus far failed to deliver on the promises its creators made on its behalf.
Since IBM began marketing and selling Watson as a cancer treatment resource in 2014, less than 50 hospitals have adopted the system, which IBM envisioned as a new industry standard.
Watson has the capacity to gather and sift through unfathomable amounts of data with inhuman speed, but the human beings must tell the computer how to interpret the data it collects. In other words, Watson struggles to synthesize data. Therefore, some have cast doubt on IBM’s claims that the computer can identify novel medications and treatment methods.
Given IBM’s commitment to study the healthcare applications of AI at the MIT facility, researchers at the new lab will likely work to hone Watson’s cancer treatment abilities.
In February, IBM made Watson available as a cyber security “cop.” The company said it had “trained [the robot] on the language of cyber security.” IBM found that human cyber security teams analyze more than 200,000 “security events” every day, and waste 20,000 hours per year “chasing false positives.” Were these processes automated, cyber security could become more efficient and effective.
And with hackers developing new threats at an accelerating rate, the workload of cyber security teams is ever-increasing.
Of course, there will be kinks to iron out in Watson’s cyber security functionality as well.
As yet, the practical experience of AI powerhouses like Watson is limited. “The field of artificial intelligence, despite its progress, is in its infancy,” Gil said.
Still, artificial intelligence is increasingly hard to ignore. As more and more minds collaborate to refine robots like Watson, and as such robots gain more and more “hands-on” experience, AI is poised to become an integral part of the business world.
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