An MIT Alumni Association Publication

“MIT is firmly focused on the future, and we are mindful that our shared future hinges on the responsible and ethical evolution of artificial intelligence and computing technologies to address global challenges,” shared Maria Zuber, vice president for research, at a recent MIT Campaign for a Better World event in Atlanta. “In this galvanizing moment, MIT aspires to be the true north of computing and AI.”

The event was held on October 18 at the JW Marriott Atlanta Buckhead as part of the MIT Better World event series. The Atlanta gathering brought out area alumni and friends of MIT to hear talks by Zuber as well as Melissa Nobles, Kenan Sahin Dean of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences and professor of political science; Thomas W. Malone, director of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence and Patrick J. McGovern Professor of Management; and Harini Suresh ’16, MEng ’17, PhD student in the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory; with an introduction by Hope M. Barrett ’98, director of audience intelligence at CNN and MIT Alumni Association Board of Directors member. (Watch a video of the full program.)

During the program, Zuber talked about the Institute’s efforts to explore the social implications of computing and AI, especially through the newly launched MIT Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing. The college, led by Dan Huttenlocher SM ’84, PhD ’88, will enable the integration of computing studies and research throughout the Institute, and it “will shape the direction of computing and AI through collaborations across MIT’s five schools,” says Zuber.

Dean Nobles stressed that humanistic perspectives are an essential companion to the technological side of computing, and underscored the importance of creating common ground between humanities, arts, and social sciences, and the college of computing. “Technology is not created in a vacuum, technology is made by humans and it profoundly shapes human lives and activities,” she explained. “Increasingly, MIT students recognize that MIT’s humanistic fields powerfully equip them to successfully negotiate and contribute to the well-being of a complicated and interconnected world.”

Malone spoke about the human-computer relationship—the focus of the research at the Center for Collective Intelligence—noting that while computers have become highly advanced in many ways, they are still lacking in areas where humans flourish. “Even the most advanced AI programs today have only specialized intelligence. At the same time, any normal human has far more general intelligence than today’s most advanced AI programs,” he observed. “How can people and computers be connected so that collectively they can act more intelligently than any person, group, or computer has ever done before?”

As a third-year PhD student, Suresh aims to build better AI models; she also focuses on public education regarding these new technologies, encouraging transparency about how the models are being applied to real-life situations. For example, “Machine learning tools are being rolled out in hospitals across the country, and if doctors are behaving in unexpected ways because of it, we need to know that and we need to figure out how to account for it.” One of her most surprising findings suggests that medical professionals are willing to go against their own knowledge and intuition if a machine learning system tells them to.

The alumni and friends in attendance offered questions to the speakers that spanned such topics as bias, privacy, politics, policies, and accountability. Throughout the responses, a narrative took shape: More work needs to be done to address these areas, and MIT is actively engaged in that work. As Nobles put it: “The fact that big data use seems inevitable does not absolve us of the responsibility to think about what these trends mean.”

Watch the full program, view event photos, and visit YouTube for a playlist of additional videos from Better World programs held around the world.

With 21 Better World events complete, the tour is not over yet. Programs are planned next year for Westchester/Fairfield on February 27, 2020, and Toronto on April 29, 2020. Learn more and get involved at