MIT and U.S. Air Force sign agreement to launch AI Accelerator

Author: Rob Matheson | MIT News Office

MIT and the U.S. Air Force have signed an agreement 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 effort, known as the MIT-Air Force AI Accelerator, will leverage the expertise and resources of MIT and the Air Force to conduct fundamental research directed at enabling rapid prototyping, scaling, and application of AI algorithms and systems. The Air Force plans to invest approximately $15 million per year as it builds upon its five-decade relationship with MIT.

The collaboration is expected to support at least 10 MIT research projects addressing challenges that are important to both the Air Force and society more broadly, such as disaster response and medical readiness.

“This collaboration is very much in line with MIT’s core value of service to the nation,” says Maria Zuber, MIT’s vice president for research and the E.A. Griswold Professor of Geophysics. “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.”

Under the agreement, MIT will 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. Teams will also include leaders in technology policy, history, and ethics from a range of departments, labs, and centers across the Institute. Members of the Air Force will join and lend expertise to each team.

“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 says. “Drawing from one of the best of American research universities is vital.”

The AI Accelerator can include faculty, staff, and students in all five MIT schools, and will be a component of the new MIT Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing, opening this fall. The college will take a strongly interdisciplinary approach to computing, and focus on the societal implications of computing and AI. The MIT-Air Force program will be housed in MIT’s Beaver Works facility, an innovation center located in the Technology Square block of Kendall Square. MIT Lincoln Laboratory, a U.S. Department of Defense federally funded research and development center, will make available its specialized facilities and resources to support Air Force mission requirements.

“Our objective is 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,” says Daniela Rus, director of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and the Andrew and Erna Viterbi Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. “We plan to assemble interdisciplinary teams that will collaborate across disparate fields of AI to create new algorithms and solutions.” 

The AI Accelerator research program will aim to develop new algorithms and systems 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 fundamental 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.

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 says. “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,” adds 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.

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