|Massachusetts Institute of Technology|
|Dean||Daniel P. Huttenlocher|
The MIT Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing is a college at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States. Established in 2018 to address the growing applications of computing technology, the college is an Institute-wide academic unit that works alongside MIT's five Schools of Architecture and Planning, Engineering, Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, Science, and Management. The college emphasizes artificial intelligence research, interdisciplinary applications of computing, and social and ethical responsibilities of computing. Its creation was the first significant change to MIT's academic structure since the early 1950s.
The MIT Schwarzman College of Computing is named after The Blackstone Group chairman Stephen A. Schwarzman, who donated $350 million of the college's $1.1 billion funding commitment. The college's funding sources were met with criticism, with students and staff contrasting MIT's stated emphasis on ethics against Schwarzman's controversial business practices.
On October 15, 2018, MIT president L. Rafael Reif announced the creation of the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing. MIT described the initiative as its response to the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and computing technology. The main part of the college's funding consisted of a $350 million gift from businessman Stephen A. Schwarzman, characterized by Forbes as one of the largest donations made to a single academic institution.
The college was shaped by a several year long conversation between Reif and Schwarzman prior to the donation, where the two raised questions on the potential of AI and its future impacts on society. Schwarzman emphasized the global effects of AI and believed that America needed to invest further into developing the technology, and Reif desired a university-wide initiative that funds and promotes collaboration between deparments. The resulting college sets a goal of educating "the bilinguals of the future", referring to students skilled in both computing and its applications to other fields. MIT also stated that the college would emphasize the ethics of AI and computing.
On February 21, 2019, MIT announced Daniel P. Huttenlocher as the inaugural dean of the college. Huttenlocher was praised for his "educational creativity, instinctive collegiality, intellectual depth and breadth, institutional savvy, and industry experience".
On February 26–28, 2019, MIT launched a three-day celebration of the college in an event named "Hello World, Hello MIT". The celebration featured panel discussions, an academic symposium, and talks from several notable figures. Among the speakers included Reif, Schwarzman, Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, author Thomas Friedman, and former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. The celebration received heavy criticism from several MIT students, faculty, and alumni, who protested the event and questioned the ethics of past actions by Schwarzman and Kissinger.
The Schwarzman College of Computing reshaped the organization of MIT, creating a new academic unit that interfaces between the university's five Schools of Architecture and Planning, Engineering, Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, Science, and Management. Several existing departments were restructured as joint programs: the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science became a part of both the college and the School of Engineering, and the Operations Research Center became a part of both the college and the Sloan School of Management.
The establishment of the college added 50 new faculty positions to the university. Half of these positions focus on computer science, while the other half are jointly appointed in collaboration with other academic departments. The New York Times described the college's structure as an effort to "alter traditional academic thinking and practice" and allow the university to more effectively bring computing to other fields.
Interdepartmental research labs affiliated with the college include the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, the MIT Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems, the Quest for Intelligence, the MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab, and the Abdul Latif Jameel Clinic for Machine Learning in Health.
The MIT Schwarzman College of Computing introduces three additional integrated programs:
MIT professor and AI researcher Patrick Winston praised the organization of the college and viewed it as an entity poised to serve "all of MIT". He expressed optimism regarding the college's long-term impacts, stating that he has "a very romantic dream of discoveries on par with those of Copernicus,...Darwin,...Watson and Crick".
Some MIT students spoke positively regarding the college's potential to "better manage the overflowing major" of computer science. At the time of the college's establishment, roughly 40 percent of MIT undergraduates majored in computer science or a joint program involving computer science.
MIT's creation of the Schwarzman College of Computing led to several negative responses. A group of MIT students, faculty, and alumni issued a strong criticism against the university's decision to accept money from Schwarzman, deeming it to be unethical. In an opinion piece in The Tech, they condemned Schwarzman's relationship as an advisor to US President Donald Trump, his ties to Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and his firm's opposition to an affordable housing bill in California. The group stated that "Schwarzman...represents an agenda of profit at any cost, a far cry from the pious statements about 'ethics' pronounced in public", expressing doubt that the college would fulfill its claims of ethical research. Schwarzman's firm Blackstone responded that "advancing artificial intelligence responsibly is one of the most pressing challenges of our times and it should transcend politics".
MIT professor and theoretical astrophysicist Edmund Bertschinger later echoed these criticisms of accepting Schwarzman's donation, suggesting that the perspectives of MIT community members had been neglected by administrators. "How many of our senior team understood that taking dirty money to do clean work means destroying the community's trust?" he wrote.
Free software advocate and former MIT visiting scientist Richard Stallman expressed a negative view on MIT's decision to appoint Daniel P. Huttenlocher as the college's dean, criticizing Huttenlocher's ties to Amazon and the company's controversial practices. Stallman wrote that Amazon is responsible for surveillance and censorship, anti-competitive practices, tax avoidance, and mistreatment of workers, viewing these practices as incompatible with the college's stated goal of teaching ethics. "[Will] the College of Computing teach students to see possible injustice in these practices, or will it legitimize them?" he questioned.
In addition, the "Hello World, Hello MIT" celebration of the college led to a further round of criticism regarding MIT's ethics. A particular point of controversy was MIT's invitation of Henry Kissinger as a guest speaker. A group of students and faculty described Kissinger's involvement in the secret bombing campaigns in Cambodia and Laos, deeming Kissinger to be a war criminal. The critics stated that the celebration had "no purpose aside from accumulating money and the wrong kind of prestige" and called for MIT to cancel the event, which the university did not do. A protest was held next to the event, involving around 300 participants. "Kissinger you can’t hide, you committed genocide", some of the protesters chanted. MIT community members have placed the Schwarzman College of Computing within a greater trend of controversial outside engagements by the university's administrators. WBUR wrote that some students and faculty were "really sick" of MIT's partnerships with the military-industrial complex, David Koch, Jeffrey Epstein, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, in addition to Stephen Schwarzman. The critics called for MIT president L. Rafael Reif to resign.
From another perspective, some students questioned the societal value of MIT's focus on computing and AI. Viewing MIT administrators' emphasis on these technologies as a fad, they argued that MIT should instead promote research and education in areas that they believed to be more impactful. "[Why] aren't we putting this large sum of money into our climate change research, our urban planning department, or our economics and political science departments?" wrote a student in an opinion piece in The Tech. Students also described MIT's initiative to create the college as "very top-down in its approach" and expressed skepticism regarding "buy-in from faculty, staff, and students".
Outside of MIT, the Yale Daily News wrote that Schwarzman's donation to MIT "appeared to be a snub at Yale". The paper stated that an earlier donation to Yale for a $150 million Schwarzman Center led to similar controversies. The Schwarzman Center was viewed by its critics as "being driven by the donors rather than driven by the faculty and their mission". Schwarzman received his bachelor's degree from Yale in 1969.
Notable people affiliated with the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing include: