The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the United States Air Force said on 20 May that they had teamed up to launch a new program designed to “make fundamental advances in artificial intelligence that could improve Air Force operations while also addressing broader societal needs”.
The project – known as the MIT-Air Force AI Accelerator – aims to “leverage the expertise and resources” of both institutions to conduct research directed at “enabling rapid prototyping, scaling, and application of AI algorithms and systems”.
The Air Force said it plans to invest approximately US$15 million per year in the project as it builds upon a five-decade relationship with MIT. The collaboration is expected to support a minimum of ten projects addressing concerns that are important to the Air Force and society more broadly, including disaster response and medical readiness.
MIT said that – under the agreement – it would form interdisciplinary teams of researchers, faculty, and students whose work focuses on topics in artificial intelligence, control theory, formal methods, machine learning, robotics, and perception, among other fields.
The teams will also include leaders in technology policy, history, and ethics from a range of departments, labs, and centers across the Institute, and members of the Air Force will join and lend expertise to each team.
“This collaboration is very much in line with MIT’s core value of service to the nation,” Maria Zuber, MIT’s vice president for research and Professor of Geophysics, said in a statement. “MIT researchers who choose to participate will bring state-of-the-art expertise in AI to advance Air Force mission areas and help train Air Force personnel in applications of AI.”
“MIT is the leading institution for AI research, education, and application, making this a huge opportunity for the Air Force as we deepen and expand our scientific and technical enterprise,” Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson added. “Drawing from one of the best of American research universities is vital.”
According to Daniela Rus – director of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), and Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science – the project will attempt to “advance the underlying science behind AI and facilitate societal applications, including helping create solutions in fields like disaster relief and medical preparedness that are of interest to the Air Force”.
“We plan to assemble interdisciplinary teams that will collaborate across disparate fields of AI to create new algorithms and solutions,” she added, to assist complex decision-making that might help the Air Force, for example, better focus its maintenance efforts — an expensive and critical part of its aircraft operations.
This research also intends to develop AI to assist humans in aspects of planning, control, and other complex tasks. Finally, the work aims to enable rapid deployment of advanced algorithms and capabilities developed at MIT to foster AI innovation across the country, MIT said. In addition to disaster relief and medical readiness, other possible research areas may include data management, maintenance and logistics, vehicle safety and cyber resiliency.
“The AI Accelerator provides us with an opportunity to develop technologies that will be vectors for positive change in the world,” Rus said. “This new project will integrate societal implications into research from the outset.”
“MIT continues to pursue research that addresses current problems, while training researchers to think through the implications for tomorrow as research is translated to new technologies and new problems,” concluded Krystyn Van Vliet, associate provost and Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and of Biological Engineering. “The MIT-Air Force AI Accelerator allows MIT to demonstrate that concept when AI provides one of the tools for human decisions.”