Columbia Engineering and Amazon Announce Creation of New York AI Research Center

New Research Center of Artificial Intelligence Technology focuses on advancing innovation in AI technologies

Sep 22 2020 | By Holly Evarts | PHOTO CREDIT: JEFFREY SCHIFFMAN

Columbia Engineering and Amazon today announced a new partnership in creating the Columbia Center of Artificial Intelligence Technology in collaboration with Amazon, with Amazon providing $5 million for the next five years ($1 million per year) to support AI research, education, and outreach programs.

Mary C. Boyce, dean of Columbia Engineering, says the collaboration will leverage the collective expertise of both organizations to advance AI in a way that is responsible, effective, and beneficial to society.

“AI will have an enormous impact on every aspect of our lives, fundamentally changing how we work, learn, access resources and services, and connect to one another,” said Mary C. Boyce, dean of Columbia Engineering. “We are thrilled to be partnering with Amazon, a true innovation leader, to leverage our collective expertise and advance AI in a way that is responsible, effective, and beneficial to society.”

Amazon’s sponsorship of this center underlines its strong commitment to partnering with academia to address the hardest challenges in AI and to democratizing access to the benefits of AI innovations. Amazon funding will support a broad set of programs at Columbia, including two-year fellowships that will be awarded annually to PhD students enrolled in the Engineering School; research projects led by one or more Columbia faculty members in collaboration with post-doctoral researchers, undergraduate and graduate students, and research staff; and support for collaborative research events and activities that accelerate AI research and make it more accessible in the NYC area (including research symposia that are open to the public).

“We are delighted to join forces with Columbia University, bringing together top talent from our two organizations in a joint mission to find solutions to the most challenging problems in AI,” said Prem Natarajan, Alexa AI vice president of natural understanding. “With an emphasis on translational research, the new center will emphasize approaches and solutions that are informed by diverse perspectives from multiple disciplines.”

Kicking off its programmatic activities, the new center announced today its internal request for research proposals from Columbia faculty. Columbia Engineering today also launched its call for PhD student fellowship nominations. The deadline for research proposals and fellowship nominations is October 23, 2020. In the next few weeks, the two organizations will also organize a virtual networking event to spark collaborations between Columbia University and Amazon researchers.

Shih-Fu Chang is inaugural director of the Columbia Center of Artificial Intelligence Technology in collaboration with Amazon. In addition to his role at Columbia, Chang is an Amazon Scholar.

“By combining the broad strengths in all core areas of AI from both Columbia and Amazon, we will be able to accelerate our efforts in advancing the state of the art in this critical field,” said Shih-Fu Chang, inaugural director of the new center, senior executive vice dean of Columbia Engineering, Richard Dicker Professor of Telecommunications, and an Amazon Scholar. “The framework we set up in this center for supporting research collaboration, student training, and knowledge dissemination will create a successful environment for us to explore unprecedented university-industry collaboration, cross-disciplinary research, and applications of AI solutions in the real world at scale.”

Several Columbia faculty are also Amazon Scholars. In addition to Chang, Amazon Scholars from Columbia University include: Shipra Agrawal, Cyrus Derman Assistant Professor of Industrial Engineering and Operations Research; Peter Belhumeur, professor of computer science; Andrew Gelman, Higgins Professor of Statistics and professor of political science and director of Columbia’s Applied Statistics Center; Julia Hirschberg, Percy K. and Vida L. W. Hudson Professor of Computer Science; Garud Iyengar, Tang Family Professor of Industrial Engineering and Operations Research; Kathleen McKeown, Henry and Gertrude Rothschild Professor of Computer Science; Smaranda Muresan, a research scientist at the Data Science Institute and computer science department; and Oded Netzer, Arthur J. Samberg Professor of Business.

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Amazon in New York State
The Columbia University research center complements Amazon’s research presence in New York City. Research teams from Alexa and AWS are located in the city, as are teams working on supply chain optimization technologies (SCOT), inventory planning and control (IPC), and AWS security analytics and AI research (SAAR).

Earlier this year, Amazon provided Columbia University $2.5 million to fund its clinical trial of a possible plasma therapy for the treatment of COVID-19. In August, the company announced plans to create 3,500 new technology and corporate jobs across six cities in the U.S., including New York. In Manhattan, Amazon plans to create 2,000 new jobs, new jobs and has acquired the Lord & Taylor Fifth Avenue building, where the company plans to open a 630,000-square-foot office. Amazon has invested more than $7 billion in New York since 2010, and currently employs 24,000 workers across the state.

Columbia Engineering
Columbia Engineering, based in New York City, is one of the top engineering schools in the U.S. and one of the oldest in the nation. Also known as The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, the School expands knowledge and advances technology through the pioneering research of its more than 220 faculty, while educating undergraduate and graduate students in a collaborative environment to become leaders informed by a firm foundation in engineering. The School’s faculty are at the center of the University’s cross-disciplinary research, contributing to the Data Science Institute, Earth Institute, Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute, Precision Medicine Initiative, and the Columbia Nano Initiative. Guided by its strategic vision, “Columbia Engineering for Humanity,” the School aims to translate ideas into innovations that foster a sustainable, healthy, secure, connected, and creative humanity.