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Colby College launches machine learning institute

Colby College, known for its economics and environmental science programs, now wants to become a leader in artificial intelligence education.

The small Maine college this week announced plans to launch the Davis Institute for Artificial Intelligence, which will teach students to incorporate the new technology into their liberal arts education. In the summer, the new institute will also train faculty from other colleges on machine learning.

College graduates, even those majoring in the humanities, increasingly need more computer science experience to succeed in an evolving job market, said David A. Greene, Colby’s president.

Earlier this week, Amazon announced it plans to expand its presence in Boston by creating 3,000 jobs, including in software development, artificial intelligence, machine learning, management, HR, and finance.

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But most AI and machine learning programs are based at the large engineering schools, such as MIT, Georgia Tech, and Stanford University, Greene said.

Colby wants its English, history, and biology students to have some understanding of how machine learning can be applied to their fields, Greene said.

“We need to have a democratization of AI, and it needs to be moved to different types of colleges,” Greene said. “Other sectors of higher education have to have a strong foothold here.”

In 2018, MIT established a College of Computing to tackle the latest developments in AI, with a $350 million gift from Stephen Schwarzman, the head of Blackstone Group, a global private equity firm.

Colby is starting its institute this fall with a far smaller sum: $30 million from Andrew Davis, an investment manager and former college trustee, and his family foundation.

Colby plans to hire a director and six faculty members for its institute in the coming year, Greene said.


Deirdre Fernandes can be reached at deirdre.fernandes@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @fernandesglobe.