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New leadership for MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab

Computer vision and machine learning expert Antonio Torralba to lead new artificial intelligence research lab.
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Antonio Torralba
Antonio Torralba
Photo: Lillie Paquette/School of Engineering

Antonio Torralba has been named MIT director of the MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab effective immediately, announced Anantha Chandrakasan, dean of the MIT School of Engineering, today.

An expert in computer vision, machine learning, and human visual perception, Torralba is a professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and a principal investigator at the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. His projects span a wide range — from investigating object recognition and scene understanding in pictures and movies, to studying the inner workings of deep neural networks, to building models of human vision and cognition, to the development of applications and systems such as Pic2Recipe that can look at a photo of food, predict the ingredients, and suggest similar recipes. He is also an enthusiastic investigator of the intersections between visual art and computation.

“As the inaugural MIT director of our collaboration with IBM, Antonio will closely collaborate with IBM leadership and lab researchers to design and implement the lab’s ambitious research agenda,” said Chandrakasan, who is also the Vannevar Bush Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. “He is an accomplished scholar and a creative thinker with deep experience and a broad range of research interests in AI. I look forward to working with Antonio as we shape this exciting endeavor.”

Torralba is an associate editor of the International Journal in Computer Vision and served as program chair for the Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition conference in 2015. He received the 2008 National Science Foundation Career award, the best student paper award at the IEEE Conference on Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition in 2009, and the 2010 J.K. Aggarwal Prize from the International Association for Pattern Recognition. In 2017, he received the Frank Quick Faculty Research Innovation Fellowship and the Louis D. Smullin (’39) Award for Teaching Excellence. He earned a degree in telecommunications engineering from Telecom BCN in Spain, in 1994, and his PhD in signal, image, and speech processing from the National Polytechnic Institute of Grenoble in France, in 2000.   

“I am delighted by the appointment of Antonio Torralba as MIT director of the MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab,” said Dario Gil, vice president of AI and IBM Q at IBM Research, who, along with Chandrakasan, oversees the MIT-IBM collaboration. “He brings a unique combination of deep technical excellence, intellectual curiosity, and enthusiasm — which I hope become hallmarks of our collaboration. I look forward to working closely with Antonio and the joint teams across MIT and IBM to kick off what I know will be a tremendously successful collaboration."

Torralba and the IBM director will lead the MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab, a $240 million investment by IBM in AI efforts over the next 10 years, with $90 million dedicated to supporting MIT research. They will co-chair a committee comprised of equal numbers of MIT faculty and IBM researchers. This committee will review and select proposals for funding and provide strategic direction to the lab. The initial areas of joint research between MIT and IBM will be core AI algorithms, the physics of AI, the application of AI to industries, and advancing shared prosperity through AI.   

Torralba and IBM are moving quickly to engage with researchers from MIT and IBM to get the lab’s first round of research projects initiated and underway. They have established a series of upcoming events through which MIT principal investigators and IBM research staff can meet, learn more about the lab, and discuss opportunities for collaboration. 

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