$2 Million Donation from Eric and Wendy Schmidt Supports Launch of Program in Theoretical Machine Learning at the Institute for Advanced Study

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Lee Sandberg

A $2 million donation from Eric and Wendy Schmidt will support the launch of the Program in Theoretical Machine Learning in the Institute for Advanced Study’s School of Mathematics. Eric Schmidt is the Executive Chairman of Google; Wendy Schmidt is President of The Schmidt Family Foundation and Co-Founder of the Schmidt Ocean Institute. The Schmidts have a history of supporting innovation. In 2009, they established the Eric and Wendy Schmidt Transformative Technology Fund at neighboring Princeton University.

This gift will launch a three-year program beginning in the Fall of 2017 and will focus on developing the mathematical underpinnings of machine learning, including unsupervised learning, deep learning, optimization, and statistics. The program will also explore connections to neighboring fields, including biology, computer vision, natural language processing, neuroscience, and social science.

Sanjeev Arora of Princeton University, who will be Visiting Professor in the Institute’s School of Mathematics, will lead the Program in Theoretical Machine Learning. The program will include postdocs and visitors in the School of Mathematics, and culminate in 2019–20 with a special year focused on theoretical machine learning.

The quest to understand the power and limits of machine learning methods will create a rich source of questions in the field and lead to new collaborations with the Institute’s continuing Computer Science and Discrete Math (CSDM) program, which has been led by Avi Wigderson, Herbert H. Maass Professor, since he joined the Faculty in 1999.

“We are grateful to Eric and Wendy for this generous donation, which enables the expansion of computer science research at the Institute and positions us with the most exciting developments in the field,” said Wigderson. “Machine learning techniques are finding new applications almost daily and are already transforming society in numerous ways, but these methods, and the resulting technology, are far from well understood, both from efficiency and vulnerability viewpoints. These important issues beg theoretical understanding and guidance.”

Foundational work on both theory and practice of computer science has taken place at the Institute from the early days of the field. In 1945, working outside of industry and the rules of academia, a group of engineers and School of Mathematics Professor John von Neumann developed one of the first stored-program computers, whose structure (von Neumann architecture) formed the mathematical basis of computer hardware and software, and strongly influenced the development of modern computing.

“This incredible gift from Eric and Wendy highlights the importance of basic research and supports our endeavors to explore the deepest and most relevant questions about our world,” said Robbert Dijkgraaf, Institute Director and Leon Levy Professor. “We are honored to be able to continue the Institute’s strong tradition and history of pioneering the fundamental aspects of computer science.”

For more information on the Theoretical Machine Learning program visit, www.math.ias.edu/theoretical_machine_learning.