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.

The Center for Brains, Minds and Machines and the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, houses some of the most influential mind and brain researchers in the world. MIT’s largest lab, the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, is a renowned center for information technology research. The MIT Media Lab leads research on human-computer-machine interaction in real-world environments and at scale. The MIT Institute for Data, Systems, and Society develops state-of-the-art tools to address challenges in finance, health care and energy systems, among other areas. And the Microsystems Technology Laboratories and MIT.nano are designing and testing the next generation of hardware that will allow AI to flourish for years to come.

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 alone — 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 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 their interactions with humans. We take that responsibility seriously, and consider that thoughtfully in our research.

One important area of current MIT research involves improving human-machine interactions, especially in manufacturing and healthcare. Machines are simply better at some tasks than people (such as picking out important details, waiting, remembering, following directions), just as there are tasks that machines may 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 join The Quest.