NSF has awarded the Center for Brains, Minds and Machines with a Science and Technology Center grant

Sep 09, 2013

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Center for Brains, Minds and Machines

Today’s AI technologies, such as Watson, Siri and MobilEye, are impressive yet still confined to a single domain or task. Imagine how truly intelligent systems --- systems that actually understand their world --- could change our world. The work of scientists and engineers could be amplified to help solve the world's most pressing technical problems. Education, healthcare and manufacturing could be transformed. Mental health could be understood on a deeper level, leading in turn to more effective treatments of brain disorders. These accomplishments will take decades. The proposed Center for Brains, Minds, and Machines (CBMM) will enable the kind of research needed to ultimately achieve such ambitious goals. The vision of the Center is of a world where intelligence, and how it emerges from brain activity, is truly understood. A successful research plan for realizing this vision requires four main areas of inquiry and integrated work across all four guided by a unifying theoretical foundation. First, understanding intelligence requires discovering how it develops from the interplay of learning and innate structure. Second, understanding the physical machinery of intelligence requires analyzing brains across multiple levels of analysis, from neural circuits to large-scale brain architecture. Third, intelligence goes beyond the narrow expertise of chess or Jeopardy-playing computers, bridging several domains including vision, planning, action, social interactions, and language. Finally, intelligence emerges from the interactions among individuals – it is the product of social interactions. Therefore, the research of the Center engages four major research thrusts (Reverse Engineering the Infant Mind, Neuronal Circuits Underlying Intelligence, Integrating Intelligence, and Social Intelligence) with interlocking teams and working groups, and a common theoretical, mathematical, and computational platform (Enabling Theory).

The intellectual merit of the Center is its focus on elucidating the mechanisms and architecture of intelligence in the most intelligent system known: the human brain. Success in this project will ultimately enable us to understand ourselves better, to produce smarter machines, and perhaps even to make ourselves smarter. The Center’s potential legacy of a deep understanding of intelligence, and the ability to engineer it, is tantalizing and timeless. It includes the creation of a community of researchers by programs such as an intensive summer school, technical workshops and online courses that will train the next generation of scientists and engineers in an emerging new field -- the Science and Engineering of Intelligence. This new field will catalyze continuing progress in and cross-fertilization between computer science, math and statistics, robotics, neuroscience, and cognitive science. Sitting between science and engineering, it will attract growing interest from the best students at all levels. The broader impact of the Center program could be to revolutionize K-12, and also 0-K, and 12-life with a deeper understanding of the process of learning. The ability to build more human-like intelligence in machines will transform our productivity, enabling robots to care for the aged, drive our cars, and help with small-business manufacturing. The Center team is composed of over 23 investigators, many having already made significant accomplishments in multiple research areas relevant to the science and the technology of intelligence. The Center team has a mix of junior and senior researchers, bringing expertise in Computer Science, Neuroscience, Cognitive Science and Mathematics. The institutional partners include nine institutions (MIT, Harvard University, Cornell University, Rockefeller University, UCLA, Stanford University, The Allen Institute, Wellesley College, Howard University, Hunter College, Universidad Central del Caribe Puerto Rico (UCCPR) and University of Puerto Rico - Río Piedras (UPRRP)), three of which have significant underrepresented student populations. The academic institutions are complemented by the Center’s industrial partners (Microsoft, IBM, Google, DeepMind, Orcam, MobilEye, Willow Garage, RethinkRobotics, Boston Dynamics) and by world-renowned researchers at international institutions (Max Planck Institute, The Weizmann Institute, Italian Institute of Technology (IIT), The Hebrew University).

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