Radical Collaboration initiative adds AI, quantum, design tech

Collaborative research is as fundamental to life at Cornell as hourly chimes, Big Red hockey and Slope Day. It’s a commitment the university takes seriously – and now it’s expanding.

Provost Michael I. Kotlikoff has announced that Artificial Intelligence, Design + Technology and Quantum Science and Technology will become part of the “Radical Collaboration Drives Discovery” initiative, established in 2016.

The new additions bring to 10 the number of initiatives in the Radical Collaboration suite, including: Data Science; Digital Agriculture; Genome Biology; CIVIC (Critical Inquiry Into Values, Imagination and Culture); Infection Biology; Nanoscale Science and Microsystems Engineering (NEXT Nano); and Sustainability.

“Expanding our reach with regard to the Radical Collaboration initiatives is a logical next step for the university,” Kotlikoff said. “The world is becoming increasingly interconnected, and the biggest challenges we face require multifaceted approaches, which is exactly what this initiative fosters. We are making strategic investments in areas at the nexus of disciplines, and where rapid progress is anticipated over the coming years.”

The universitywide initiative has resulted in the hiring and retention of world-class faculty, millions of research dollars invested, and published research that has helped push science forward and change lives in New York state, the nation and the world.

In the five years since the Radical Collaboration initiative was announced, Cornell has hired 14 new faculty across five of the initiatives, focused on enhancing Cornell’s strength in collaborative discovery. The hires have come in the colleges of Arts and Sciences (7), Engineering (3), Veterinary Medicine (2), Agriculture and Life Sciences (1) and the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business (1). Another hire, in engineering, will start July 1.

Artificial Intelligence

Lead dean: Kavita Bala, Cornell Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information Science. Participating colleges/campuses: Cornell Bowers CIS; Engineering; Arts and Sciences; and Cornell Tech.

There is hardly an area of modern life that hasn’t been touched by AI, and it will only become more ubiquitous in the future, Bala said.

“Everybody wants to apply AI to their problem now – health and medicine, sustainability, nutrition, business, you name it,” she said. “And then there is how we think AI is going to evolve, with significant breakthroughs needed in foundational AI methods, but also through collaborations with neuroscientists, cognitive scientists and sociologists, among others.”

Researchers working on the AI initiative reflect its all-encompassing nature – the fields of computer science, data science, engineering, psychology, neuroscience, government, and philosophy are all represented on the faculty task force.

“We are tackling fundamental questions, like ‘’How will AI transform society? And how will society, law and policy have to change in an AI-enabled world?’” she said. “That’s why we have a broad group of researchers, including a philosopher, on our committee. We are going to get increasingly smart devices and smart algorithms, and we don’t actually know the legal and societal implications of how AI is going to play out. We do believe that all these disciplines need to work together to create the AI-enabled world we want to live in.”

Bala said the initiative will benefit from Cornell’s existing strengths in AI and computer science.

“We are a leader in artificial intelligence, based on our strength in the foundational areas of AI,” she said. “But we also have all these other areas of excellence where, if we combine AI, we can do so much more.”

Quantum Science and Technology

Lead dean: Ray Jayawardhana, the Harold Tanner Dean of Arts and Sciences. Participating colleges: A&S, Cornell Bowers CIS, Engineering.

Quantum is the science of the very small, but it’s expanding rapidly, Jayawardhana said.

“There’s quite a rapid pace of both scientific discoveries and technological developments in the quantum realm,” said Jayawardhana, also a professor in the Department of Astronomy (A&S). “And we are at a particularly exciting time, where both understanding of the fundamental nature of matter and energy – which in some sense gets at the fundamental nature of the universe itself – is progressing at an exciting pace.

“And, we are also on the threshold of dramatic advancements that leverage quantum phenomena for a wide range of practical applications in sensing, communication, medicine, and more,” he said.

Guided and supported by the deans of the three participating colleges, the Quantum initiative’s faculty task force will foster collaborations, address emerging opportunities, recommend strategic investments and facilitate future recruitments.

”We already have significant strengths spanning from quantum materials to devices to algorithms” Jayawardhana said. “And through this initiative, we’re excited to double down on our strengths, and extend further into quantum information systems, raising Cornell’s impact in the so-called ‘second quantum revolution’ unfolding now.”

A recently announced $10 million gift from David W. Meehl ’72, MBA ’74, will support Cornell’s growth and leadership in quantum science and technology.

Design + Technology

Lead dean: Meejin Yoon, B.Arch. ’95, the Gale and Ira Drukier Dean of the College of Architecture, Art and Planning. Participating colleges: AAP, Cornell Bowers CIS, Engineering, A&S, Human Ecology, Cornell Tech.

The confluence of the digital, the physical and the biological is radically altering how we understand our world and humanity. As a result, the integration of design and technology is becoming increasingly critical.

“Design is where creativity and imagination intersect with utility and purpose,” Yoon said. “And in this moment where we are seeing unprecedented technological advancements transform the way we live, work, create and interact with each other, design is not only essential to actualizing technology, but essential to advancing technology with our values.”

The Design + Technology initiative, which brings together multi-disciplinary design technology education and research, hinges on an understanding that the relationship between design and technology is fundamental to solving many of the world’s most intractable problems. Yoon sees creative intelligence as critical to the evolution of the fourth industrial revolution.

“The ability to re-imagine the world, to reframe problems, to generate emergent possibilities and to simultaneously re-position value – and our values – is fundamental to design education and design impact,” she said.  “Design has never been more essential to addressing the world’s greatest challenges and preparing the next generation of designers, technologists and change agents to impact a better future. And Cornell, with its breadth of expertise, is already well-positioned to be a global leader in design + technology.”

Read the story in the Cornell Chronicle.

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