Last month, I attended the MIT Computer Science & Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) Alliance annual meeting. The meeting brings together MIT’s researchers and the industrial collaborators that support them (including Nokia Bell Labs) to review CSAIL’s findings and discuss evolving research needs. This year’s meeting addressed such topics as cyber security, software development in a post Moore’s law era and how to equip machines with human vision.
The three-day meeting reinforced my belief in the value of such academic/industrial collaborations. Aside from the inspiration gained from listening to smart people talking about difficult problems, we at Nokia Bell labs gain new ideas, critical perspective and build important relationships that better position our company for future success.
The faculty talks often started at a high level, but concluded in highlighting current research and research challenges. It was clear the faculty presentations were informed by interactions with companies like Nokia Bell Labs; they discussed hard problems, but with practical, real world implications. I spent many of the sessions looking up papers and sending emails to people on my team about potential collaborations, or potential solutions to problems we are currently tackling. This open sharing of ideas, solutions and problems is key to the success of research.
Beyond the presentations, I found the demos and the student poster sessions to be similarly refreshing. As with the professors, these sessions are a terrific opportunity to better understand the research going on at CSAIL. Students are enthusiastic to present their work and receptive to any feedback about problems or solutions. In addition to understanding the work, it gave me an opportunity to get to know the students. A key aspect of these collaborations is finding future Bell Labs researchers. In many cases. it's clear when a student is destined for greatness - and at Bell Labs we want to be the platform that makes that happen.
While the formal program was great, the informal breaks allowed attendees to get to know each other on a personal level - not just the professors and students, but also the other industrial alliance members. In many cases, these industrial members are struggling with the same problems we have at Nokia Bell Labs, so these discussions can result in the understanding of a common challenge or key insights into potential solutions. The academic environment is conducive to the free and open sharing of ideas and the breadth of partners goes well beyond the typical interactions one might have at a trade show or domain specific conference.
This year, the industrial collaborators of CSAIL’s Systems That Learn (STL) Initiative have again created an impressive list of challenges and key problems. I believe the new CSAIL project proposals inspired by this list will lead to innovations that build understanding, advance the state of the art, and enable new applications to augment human potential.
Chris White leads Nokia Bell Labs’ Algorithms, Analytics & Augmented Intelligence research. He is also a founding member of the MIT CSAIL STL initiative, helping guide research aimed at creating a new generation of AI tools that are deeply rooted in systems and that can make those systems better.