Business & Tech

IBM strikes AI deal with MIT

IBM Watson Health offices in Cambridge.

David L Ryan/Globe Staff

IBM Watson Health offices in Cambridge.

IBM on Thursday said it would spend $240 million over the next decade on an artificial intelligence research lab it is launching with MIT, in hopes of unlocking new advances in a field that the technology giant sees as a major factor in its future.

The new MIT–IBM Watson AI Lab will gather more that 100 scientists, professors, and students to do research at the university’s campus and at the technology giant’s nearby offices in Kendall Square, MIT said in a news release.

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It was not clear how many of those people would be new hires, but IBM said it would bring in additional staff to work on the project. The lab launched a hiring website with a handful of job listings as it announced the project.

A particular focus of the effort will be to help students and professors launch companies and commercialize breakthroughs in artificial intelligence.

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“The field of artificial intelligence has experienced incredible growth and progress over the past decade. Yet today’s AI systems, as remarkable as they are, will require new innovations to tackle increasingly difficult real-world problems to improve our work and lives,” John Kelly III, IBM’s senior vice president for cognitive solutions and research, said in a statement.

The announcement comes as IBM has been working — with halting results — to build Watson, a cloud-based artificial intelligence platform, into a pillar of its efforts to turn around a period of declining revenue.

The collaboration seeks to improve the performance of artificial intelligence projects, improving the algorithms that make them work, examining the physical materials that support their hardware, and looking for new ways to apply the technology to industry.

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The research it conducts could help build bedrock understanding of artificial intelligence that could lead to new or improved commercial technologies at IBM and elsewhere.

Anantha P. Chandrakasan, dean of MIT’s School of Engineering and a cochairman of the lab, said IBM has made an unique commitment to science with its contribution.

“It’s amazing that we have a company that’s also interested in the fundamental research,” he said in an interview, citing potential advances in sophisticated “deep learning” by computers. “That’s very basic research that may not be in a product next year but provides very important insights.”

Andy Rosen can be reached at andrew.rosen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @andyrosen.
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