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AI Lab, LCS Discuss Plans for Stata Move

By Kevin R. Lang

EDITOR IN CHIEF

A committee appointed by Dean of Engineering Thomas L. Magnanti is currently discussing possible changes to the relationship between the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and the Laboratory for Computer Science when the two move to the new Stata Center in 2003-2004.

The two labs sponsored a discussion session with current students on April 18 to begin seeking feedback. The laboratory directors, Professor Victor W. Zue ScD ’76 of LCS and Professor Rodney A. Brooks of the AI Lab, cited the “increasing amount of collaboration and cooperation between the two labs” as motivation for the discussion.

Stata move leads to committee

Brooks said that the move to the Stata Center has prompted talk on how groups within the labs should be arranged, or if new groups should be formed altogether. “We’re just trying to get people’s opinions,” Brooks said. “There has definitely been talks of new research groups.”

Zue said that the two labs originally split some 30 years ago, “one focused more on artificial intelligence, the other on traditional computer science.” In recent years, however, “we’ve seen quite a bit of collaboration between the two labs” he said.

Brooks cited the example of Project Oxygen, a $40 million program to change the way people interact with computers, as one of the research projects which currently spans the two labs.

Early plans still uncertain

Brooks said that discussions were still preliminary, and that the possibility of an outright merger between the two labs was only “something people are throwing around as an idea.”

Zue said that discussion of recombining the two labs was premature. “The dean gave us quite a bit of latitude,” he said, “[but] on the table are several alternatives.” According to Zue, the two labs could continue as separate entities, merge, or reconfigure into smaller labs and centers.

Zue said “about a dozen people” were serving on the new committee, co-chaired by Professor Ronald L. Rivest of LCS and Professor Tomas Lozano-Perez ’73 of the AI Lab.

Thus far, Zue said, the committee has been interviewing faculty and researchers, and meeting with the labs’ administrative staff. He said that the feedback from graduate students was especially valuable because it helped “provide a different perspective.”

“The nice thing about talking to the graduate students is that in some way they are down in the trenches,” Zue said.

While no students are directly serving on the committee, Rivest said that “the students are well in the loop.”

Zue said that Magnanti specifically requested a two-phase approach, first deciding whether or not to maintain the two labs as they are now before the end of term. If the committee decides to reconfigure the labs, more detailed discussion would then begin on exactly how to do so. Magnanti could not be reached for comment.

The Stata Center will also house the Laboratory for Information Decision Systems and the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy.