Forging connections between human and machine intelligence research, its applications, and its bearing on society.

The MIT Quest for Intelligence (The Quest) will advance the science and engineering of both human and machine intelligence. Launched on February 1, 2018, this effort seeks to discover the foundations of human intelligence and drive the development of technological tools that can positively influence virtually every aspect of society.

The Institute’s culture of collaboration will encourage life scientists, computer scientists, social scientists, and engineers to join forces to investigate the societal implications of their work as they pursue hard problems lying beyond the current horizon of intelligence research. By uniting diverse fields and capitalizing on what they can teach each other, we seek to answer the deepest questions about intelligence.

President Reif

A message from MIT President L. Rafael Reif

We are setting out to answer two big questions: How does human intelligence work, in engineering terms? And how can we use that deep grasp of human intelligence to build wiser and more useful machines, to the benefit of society?

Drawing on MIT’s deep strengths and signature values, culture, and history, the MIT Quest for Intelligence promises to make important contributions to understanding the nature of intelligence, and to harnessing it to make a better world.

This is our quest.

Sixty years ago, at MIT and elsewhere, big minds lit the fuse on a big question: What is intelligence, and how does it work? The result was an explosion of new fields — artificial intelligence, cognitive science, neuroscience, linguistics, and more. They all took off at MIT and have produced remarkable offshoots, from computational neuroscience, to neural nets, to empathetic robots.

And today, by tapping the united strength of these and other interlocking fields and capitalizing on what they can teach each other, we seek to answer the deepest questions about intelligence — and to deliver transformative new gifts for humankind.

Some of these advances may be foundational in nature, involving new insight into human intelligence, and new methods to allow machines to learn effectively. Others may be practical tools for use in a wide array of research endeavors, such as disease diagnosis, drug discovery, materials and manufacturing design, automated systems, synthetic biology, and finance.

Along with developing and advancing the technologies of intelligence, our researchers will also investigate the societal and ethical implications of advanced analytical and predictive tools. There are already active projects and groups at the Institute investigating autonomous systems, media and information quality, labor markets and the work of the future, innovation and the digital economy, and the role of AI in the legal system.

In all its activities, The Quest is intended to take advantage of — and strengthen — the Institute’s culture of collaboration. It will connect and amplify existing excellence across labs and centers already engaged in intelligence research.

Join our quest.

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MIT’s vision for the Quest for Intelligence

The Quest addresses two fundamental questions: How does human intelligence work, in engineering terms? And how can we use that deep grasp of human intelligence to build wiser and more useful machines, to the benefit of society?

As we seek those answers, we are developing customized AI tools for non-AI researchers, which could accelerate progress in many fields and eventually spin off technological tools that can positively influence society.

We see an opportunity to achieve a deeper understanding of intelligence through the kind of basic research that leads to unexpected breakthroughs. We aspire for our new knowledge and newly built tools to serve the public good, in our nation and around the world.

The time is now

It’s hard to name a field AI hasn’t touched already. Machine learning is the new literacy. Still, many of the breakthroughs driving current machine intelligence technology are actually decades old. We’re looking for the next great leap that will unlock innovations that today’s entrepreneurs haven’t even begun to dream about.

The last few decades have seen a revolution in the powers of computation, and in our understanding of the human brain. More recently, we have experienced a similar revolution in the acquisition of data at massive scales. We have access to more information than ever before, but the tools for making sense of it need to take a giant leap forward.

MIT has the people and the talent

We begin with a baseline of exceptional talent: more than 200 MIT investigators already work directly on the science and engineering of intelligence.

In the Center for Brains, Minds and Machines and the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, MIT has cultivated a community of systems, molecular, cognitive, and computational neuroscientists that is perhaps the most influential and extensive in the world. The Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, the largest lab at MIT, is among the most important centers of information technology research worldwide. And the MIT Media Lab conducts world-leading research on human-computer-machine interaction in real-world environments and at scale.

By bringing these communities together with people and ideas from biology, chemistry, physics, math, design, management, economics, and others, we can spark new collaborations and accomplish things none of those fields could do on their own — things we couldn’t even conceive of 20 years ago.

Addressing ethics

Researchers at MIT always have a responsibility to think about the ethical implications of their work, and intelligence work comes with some very charged questions.

MIT is committed to making a better world, and we must be diligent in that mission. There are real consequences to the decisions we make in our labs about how machines behave, both on their own and in interactions with humans. We take that responsibility seriously, and consider that thoughtfully in our research.

One important current area of MIT research involves how we improve interactions between humans and machines, especially in manufacturing and healthcare environments. There are tasks that machines are simply better at than people (such as seeing detail, waiting, remembering, following directions), just as there are tasks that machines may simply never be able to accomplish. We need to capitalize on these differences — while being very careful about how they balance out in their final expression, for instance, at a patient’s bedside in the hospital, or on the factory floor.

Join The Quest

The Quest will create a broad community of forward-looking companies and individuals from around the world, seeking to unlock the nature of intelligence and harness it to make a better world.

A key to the success of the effort will be identifying industry allies who share our passion for tackling big, real-world problems. That work is already underway: we have forged a number of collaborative projects with industry, such as the MIT–IBM Watson AI Lab.

The MIT Quest for Intelligence will also rely on the foresight and passion of philanthropists who see the promise of using advances in intelligence to solve humanity’s greatest problems.

Learn more about how to The Quest.