As a graduate student doing his master’s thesis on speech recognition at the MIT AI Lab (now the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory), Dan Huttenlocher worked closely with Professor Victor Zue. Well known for pioneering the development of systems that allowed a user to interact with computers using spoken language, Zue frequently traveled to Asia – where much of the early research in speech recognition took place. in the 1980s. Huttenlocher occasionally accompanied his professor on these trips, many of which involved interactions with members of MIT’s Industrial Liaison Program, he recalls. “It was a tremendous opportunity,” says Huttenlocher, “and a big part of it sparked my interest in engaging with business and industry in addition to the academic side of research.”
Huttenlocher went on to earn his doctorate in computer vision at the Institute and has since embarked on a career that spans academia, industry and the philanthropic sector. In addition to cementing his status as an esteemed researcher in academia, he spent 12 years as a scientist at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center before leaving to co-found a fintech company. He served on the board of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation from 2010-22 (including as chairman from 2018) and serves on the boards of Amazon.com and Corning. , Inc. He also helped found Cornell. Tech, the technology, business, law and design campus in New York built by Cornell University. There, he served as the school’s first dean and vice provost, guiding its efforts to link industry and computing to improve New York’s tech ecosystem.
Today, Huttenlocher is the first dean of the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing. To underscore the importance of this moment in time and the need for an interdisciplinary computing hub like the College of Computing, he references the oft-quoted prediction that software would engulf and disrupt traditional industrial structures. Huttenlocher thinks that even if that idea were right, what we are experiencing now is something different, bigger, with vast implications for humanity. Computing as a whole – not just software but also hardware, algorithms and machine learning – has evolved to the point of redefining our approach to problem solving in nearly every industry, discipline and research area. It, he suggests, also redefines reality as we experience it.
Under Huttenlocher’s leadership, the college is both recognition and response to a new era of computing. It explores ways to support, but also lead, the technological changes that are reshaping the world. A two-way, interdisciplinary approach is essential to the agenda, according to Huttenlocher. “We want to take the cutting edge of computer science results and integrate them into other disciplines,” he says. “That means helping departments outside of IT to expand into IT, but we also want to help IT fields expand into other disciplines.” To accomplish this, Huttenlocher and the college aim to forge strong educational and research connections and collaborations between computer science and a wide range of disciplines at MIT, across all five schools, departments, and programs at the graduate and university levels. .
Operationally, the college is not yet three years old, but Huttenlocher has already overseen the rollout of several programs and initiatives that aim to integrate computer science with other disciplines. MIT has committed to creating 50 new faculty positions for the college: 25 in computer science and artificial intelligence, and 25 shared positions rooted in other academic departments not primarily focused on computer science. So far, it has hired 25 new faculty members with half a dozen in shared positions.
He also oversaw the development of Common Ground for Computing Education, a platform that brings together experts from departments across the Institute to develop and teach new courses and launch programs that combine computing with other disciplines. It aims to capitalize on the ubiquity of computing through a coordinated approach to teaching computing at the Institute. Current common subject offerings include “Interactive Data Visualization and Society”, “Solving Real-World Problems with Optimization and Computational Imaging: From Physics to Algorithms”, and “Julia: Solving Real-World Problems with calculation”.
The Social and Ethical Responsibilities of Computing (SERC), on the other hand, is a cross-cutting initiative that encourages the development and deployment of responsible technologies by incorporating knowledge and methods from the humanities and social sciences, emphasizing on social responsibility. “SERC brings together multiple perspectives – from social scientists and humanists, to engineers and computer scientists – because understanding the societal and ethical challenges of computing is largely about combining expertise from these disciplines,” says Huttenlocher. The initiative is based on a clearly defined teaching, research and engagement framework designed to assess the grand challenges and opportunities associated with computing while fostering what it calls “responsible habits of mind and of action” among MIT students who create and deploy computer technologies. Evidence of demand and impact, in 2021 more than 2,100 students were enrolled in subjects in which SERC worked with instructors to integrate social and ethical issues into the curriculum.
In his book, “The Age of AI: And Our Human Future” (Little, Brown, 2021), co-authored with Henry Kissinger and Eric Schmidt, Huttenlocher explores the ways in which artificial intelligence is fundamentally changing the way we view ourselves. as human beings, our role in society, how we perceive the world around us, and the need for collaboration across disciplines to define the future. Reflecting on what he and his colleagues have been able to accomplish in college in such a short time, Huttenlocher says he is impressed and proud of what so many people at MIT have already contributed. But that the work is far from over: “I think we’re getting to the point now where we’re starting to have impacts in some parts of MIT, but we’re working towards a broader impact, an infusion between computing and disciplines across the Institute – that’s the aspiration of the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing,” he says.
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