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Andrew Lo joins CSAIL

Economist hopes to merge the fields of computer science and artificial intelligence with research on financial markets and risk.
Andrew Lo, the Harris & Harris Group Professor of Finance at the MIT Sloan School of Management and director of MIT’s Laboratory for Financial Engineering
Andrew Lo, the Harris & Harris Group Professor of Finance at the MIT Sloan School of Management and director of MIT’s Laboratory for Financial Engineering
Photo: Jason Dorfman

This summer, MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) welcomes a world-renowned economist and its first full-time member from the MIT Sloan School of Management: Andrew Lo is Sloan’s Harris & Harris Group Professor of Finance and director of the Laboratory for Financial Engineering. While the fields of computer science and artificial intelligence may seem atypical for the work of an economist, Lo feels that joining CSAIL is a natural extension of the research path he has forged for many years.

“I really feel like a kid in the world’s biggest candy factory because there are so many different ties between my research interests and CSAIL,” Lo says of his decision to join CSAIL as a principal investigator. “I think this is a great opportunity for me to get exposed to different perspectives that could be really valuable to my ultimate goal of understanding how humans behave in economic settings.”

Lo feels that delving into the study of computer science and artificial intelligence at CSAIL will allow him to make great strides in his work with evolutionary and neurobiological models of individual risk preferences and financial markets.

In the field of artificial intelligence (AI), Lo sees a strong connection between his work and the original mission of the AI Lab: to reach a greater understanding of the nature of human intelligence. As for computer science, the financial field relies heavily on computation, thus making the relationship a natural fit. Additionally, Lo is hoping to pave the way for further collaboration between CSAIL and Sloan, as he strongly believes they could be of great benefit to one another.

In his study of econometrics and empirical finance, Lo spent many years testing various theories of economics, many of which were flatly refuted by the data. The decision to explore other areas such as computer science and artificial intelligence came from a desire to resolve lingering questions and reach a greater understanding of how human behavior applies to the field of economics.

“I didn’t have a natural inclination to go into these different fields, but was really led to them because I was searching for some kind of consistent framework to think about these phenomena that were so difficult to reconcile in the traditional economic framework,” Lo says.

Before he even considered joining CSAIL’s ranks, Lo had worked alongside a number of the lab’s faculty members and students — including Tomaso Poggio, the Eugene McDermott Professor in the Brain Sciences and Human Behavior; John Guttag, the Dugald C. Jackson Professor of Computer Science and Engineering; and Munther Dahleh, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science — paving the way for an easy integration into the lab’s research community.

At CSAIL, Lo is looking to recruit lab members to work with him on a new collaboration between Sloan and Citigroup, focusing on the role of technology in the future of retail banking. Lo hopes to not only work with fellow CSAIL members on this project, but also to introduce lab members to Citigroup executives in an effort to promote financial services research.

“I think that the challenges to the financial system have never been greater. We really need the very best minds working on these problems and I’m hoping to engage a number of people at CSAIL that might have an interest in this new area because we can really benefit from the enormous talent that’s in the lab,” he says.

Additional areas of study Lo would like to explore include data privacy and security in the financial services industry, applications of portfolio-management principles to allocating medical research funding, and the evolutionary foundations of behavior and artificial intelligence, including computational learning algorithms and robotics.

Beyond the opportunity to explore new areas of research, Lo is excited by the prospect of developing research partnerships with CSAIL faculty and staff.

“I’ve always had tremendous respect for all the work that goes on at CSAIL and I’m really curious to learn all that I can from my new colleagues,” Lo says. “I’ve already started some collaborations, but I’m really hoping to develop more, especially with the CSAIL students because they’re second to none in their fresh and bold perspectives, and also their ability to accomplish extraordinary things.”

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