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IBM and MIT pen 10-year, $240M AI research partnership

IBM and MIT came together today to sign a 10-year, $240 million partnership agreement that establishes the MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab at the prestigious Cambridge, MA academic institution.

The lab will be co-chaired by Dario Gil, IBM Research VP of AI and Anantha P. Chandrakasan, dean of MIT’s School of Engineering.

Big Blue intends to invest $240 million into the lab where IBM researchers and MIT students and faculty will work side by side to conduct advanced AI research. As to what happens to the IP that the partnership produces, the sides were a bit murky about that.

This much we know: MIT plans to publish papers related to the research, while the two parties plan to open source a good part of the code. Some of the IP will end up inside IBM products and services. MIT hopes to generate some AI-based startups as part of the deal too.

“The core mission of joint lab is to bring together MIT scientists and IBM [researchers] to shape the future of AI and push the frontiers of science,” IBM’s Gil told TechCrunch.

To that end, the two parties plan to put out requests to IBM scientists and the MIT student community to submit ideas for joint research. To narrow the focus of what could be a broad endeavor, they have established a number of principles to guide the research.

This includes developing AI algorithms with goal of getting beyond specific applications for neural-based deep learning networks and finding more generalized ways to solve complex problems in the enterprise.

Secondly, they hope to harness the power of machine learning with quantum computing, an area that IBM is working hard to develop right now. There is tremendous potential for AI to drive the development of quantum computing and conversely for quantum computing and the computing power it brings to drive the development of AI.

With IBM’s Watson Security and Healthcare divisions located right down the street from MIT in Kendall Square, the two parties have agreed to concentrate on these two industry verticals in their work. Finally, the two teams plan to work together to help understand the social and economic impact of AI in society, which as we have seen has already proven to be considerable.

While this is a big deal for both MIT and IBM, Chandrakasan made clear that the lab is but one piece of a broader campus-wide AI initiative. Still, the two sides hope the new partnership will eventually yield a number of research and commercial breakthroughs that will lead to new businesses both inside IBM and in the Massachusetts startup community, particularly in the healthcare and cybersecurity areas.

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