The new Kempner Institute for the Study of Natural and Artificial Intelligence will fuel breakthroughs in our understanding of natural and artificial intelligence by fostering new ideas and novel collaborations from newly forged interdisciplinary studies and a diverse and emerging group of scholars, Mark Zuckerberg said at the institute’s Allston campus on Thursday.
Speaking at the Kempner Institute Scientific Symposium celebrating the new venture, Zuckerberg ’06, LL.D. ’17, and his wife, Priscilla Chan ’07, co-CEOs of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and benefactors of the institute, shared how their history with Harvard allowed them to dream of a center that will range from big-data-processing algorithms to deciphering diseases like schizophrenia, autism, and more.
“If we can learn more about how the brain works, we should be able to use that to develop more intelligent AI systems, and the reverse is true too,” said Zuckerberg. “We should learn more about who we are and how to keep the brain healthy.” Giving researchers and practitioners in fields from cognitive science to neurology “tools to take on grand challenges,” he said, the Kempner should “spur collaboration at a scale that hasn’t really happened before.”
That, Zuckerberg explained, was the impetus behind a “one-of-a-kind institute in the world for studying intelligence. Once you understand how something really works and how to repair it if it breaks, you can apply it to the broader mission of how to manage and cure disease.”
Opening the afternoon program, which brought a range of educators, scientists, and tech industry giants together to discuss goals for the institute, Harvard President Larry Bacow said Chan and Zuckerberg had a deep understanding of the field and previewed a vision for the institute as a place that will bring “great students together with great faculty in a nutrient-rich environment.”
Throughout the event, Bacow and others underscored that interdisciplinary work, collaboration, data, and enabling students to pursue their own interests would be among the hallmarks of the Kempner. Quoting a Talmudic scholar, Bacow said later in the program, “I’ve learned much from my teachers, more from my colleagues, but most from my students.” The Kempner, he said, will provide, “the opportunity to educate the next generation of students — and they are going to teach us.”
“There should be no barriers to working across labs, to working across fields,” said Provost Alan Garber, Mallinckrodt Professor Health Care Policy at Harvard Medical School, noting that the institute will serve as a model for “how we handle graduate education in the future.”