IBM Puts $240M Into Joint A.I. Research Lab With MIT

IBM has bet much of its future on the promise of artificial intelligence. It’s still unclear whether that strategy will pay off, but the company continues to make significant investments in the technology area.

The latest move: IBM will pour $240 million over 10 years into a joint A.I. research lab in partnership with MIT.

More than 100 researchers—IBM scientists and MIT professors and students—will collaborate to advance A.I. algorithms, software, and hardware technologies, according to an announcement on Thursday.

The work of the “MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab” will take place at IBM’s research lab in Cambridge, MA—located in the Kendall Square offices that also house the IBM Watson Health and IBM Security headquarters—as well as on MIT’s campus nearby.

Part of the researchers’ charge is to increase the impact A.I. has on industries like healthcare and cybersecurity. Possible focus areas include medical data privacy and security, healthcare image analysis, making healthcare more personalized, and using technology to devise treatment plans. Researchers will also “explore the economic and ethical implications of A.I. on society,” according to a press release.

The lab’s co-chairs are Dario Gil, IBM Research vice president of A.I. and IBM Q, the company’s commercial quantum computing program; and Anantha Chandrakasan, dean of MIT’s School of Engineering.

For IBM, the lab is a way to tap into the talent at MIT and spur ideas and technologies that could boost its business. The Armonk, NY-based company (NYSE: IBM) helped spark the recent A.I. frenzy in the tech industry with its Watson supercomputer, which made a splash in 2011 by besting humans on the trivia game show “Jeopardy.”

Since then, IBM has applied its “cognitive computing” technology across a variety of industries, but that has yet to translate into a significant increase in its business. IBM’s annual revenues last year were down 2 percent from 2015, and the company’s stock price has declined from around $200 five years ago to about $144 as of Thursday morning.

Meanwhile, the new lab signals MIT’s increased emphasis on entrepreneurship and commercialization. The press release notes that a “distinct objective” of the lab is to encourage faculty and students to create companies to commercialize what they develop. (The lab’s researchers will also publish papers about their work and release open-source materials, according to the announcement.)

One thing to keep an eye on is how this lab will fit with other MIT computing research outfits and corporate collaborations, such as the MIT Media Lab and the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), which has a joint research center with Toyota.

[Top photo of IBM’s Kendall Square offices is courtesy of IBM, downloaded from the company’s news room website.]

Jeff Engel is a senior editor at Xconomy. Email: jengel@xconomy.com Follow @JeffEngelXcon

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