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CSAIL Director Brooks To Step Down by 2007

By Jihye Kim

Rodney Brooks, the current director of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, is stepping down after a 14 year career in pursuit of further research and teaching opportunities at the CSAIL. Brooks is scheduled to step down by end of June 2007, after 10 years of serving as director and 4 years as assistant director.

“Right now I get to work with all of the faculty, always meeting this one and that one. Later, it will be lonelier,” said Brooks of his resignation.

Under Brooks, CSAIL has been involved in many smaller collaborative projects with companies. In spite of this collaboration, Brooks said that one of the biggest challenges the program faces is obtaining funding for long-term research projects. Another goal he has in mind for this program is to recruit more women, as the percentage of women at CSAIL is notably lower than the overall Institute undergraduate population.

Brooks said he has decided to step down as director because he wants to return to teaching as well as start work on a theoretical and a practical project that he has devised.

Brook’s theoretical research, which he calls “adaptive computation,” is inspired by the extreme adaptability of biological systems.

“It’d be like taking a processor chip — although now Macs and PCs are the same as of a year ago — from a Macintosh and putting it backwards on a PC and having it work.” Brooks said that he applies this adaptability of biological systems to computation work.

Brook’s more practical, long-term project involves eventually designing a cost-effective, personal robot worker analogous to user-friendly personal computers that can perform daily tasks and increase the overall productivity of the individual.

“Ordinary people can become robot programmers,” Brooks said. Brooks has much experience in this field as he has worked extensively with human-like robots.

During the last 10 years, Brooks has led and co-led many vital CSAIL projects as well as initiated big shifts in research funding. Since all of CSAIL’s funding comes from external parties, the lab has been involved in many joint research projects with various outside companies.

CSAIL currently has a joint lab with Nokia in Kendall Square, where they work on technology for the development of cell phone software and hardware. Brooks has also led an ongoing collaborative project with Quanta Computers, a Taiwan-based manufacturer of 40 percent of the world’s laptops that has outsourced to Dell, Sony, Macintosh, and other laptop companies. With Quanta Computers, Brooks said that CSAIL is interested in researching “beyond the laptop.”

CSAIL was created in July 2003 with the merging of the Laboratory for Computer Science and the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Before the CSAIL merge, Brooks had been director of the AI Lab for 6 years and associate director for 4 years, and became the founding director of CSAIL when the two programs merged.