MIT, U.S. Air Force launching program to advance artificial intelligence

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In an effort to make “fundamental advances” in artificial intelligence (AI) that could improve Air Force operations, while also addressing broader societal needs, MIT and the U.S. Air Force have signed an agreement to launch a new program called the MIT-Air Force AI Accelerator.

Leveraging the expertise and resources of MIT and the Air Force, the effort will be used to conduct fundamental research directed at “enabling rapid prototyping, scaling, and application of AI algorithms and systems.”

Building off of its five-decade relationship with MIT, the Air Force plans to invest approximately $15 million per year in the effort.  

According to MIT and the Air Force, the collaboration is expected to support at least 10 MIT research projects, as it seeks to address challenges that are important to the Air Force, as well as the broader society, 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. The work of these teams will focus on an array of topics such as AI, machine learning, and robotics, just to name a few.

The teams will also include leaders in technology policy, history, and ethics from various departments, labs, and centers across the Institute. Members of the Air Force will join and lend expertise to each team.

The AI Accelerator can include faculty, staff, and students in all five MIT schools. It will be a component of the new MIT Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing, scheduled to open this fall. According to MIT, 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, and MIT Lincoln Laboratory, a U.S. Department of Defense federally funded research and development center, will support Air Force mission requirements by making its specialized facilities and resources available.

The AI Accelerator research program will seek to develop new algorithms and systems to help with difficult decision-making that might help the Air Force, for example, better focus its maintenance efforts, which is an expensive and critical part of its aircraft operations, the entities note.

This research also seeks to develop AI to help humans in aspects of planning, control, and other complex tasks. Lastly, the work aims to enable rapid deployment of advanced algorithms and capabilities developed at MIT, to facilitate AI innovations across the country.

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.”