Aerial view of Columbia University campus in New York City.
Amazon and Columbia Engineering are creating an AI research center. Amazon funding will support a broad set of programs, including two-year fellowships that will be awarded annually to PhD students enrolled in Columbia University's Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science.
Credit: Eileen Barroso/Columbia University

Columbia Engineering and Amazon announce creation of New York research center

Columbia Center of Artificial Intelligence Technology focuses on advancing innovation in artificial intelligence technologies.

Amazon and Columbia Engineering today announced the creation of the Columbia Center of Artificial Intelligence Technology in collaboration with Amazon. Amazon will provide $5 million over the next five years to support research, education, and outreach programs.

Amazon’s sponsorship of this center underscores 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 including two-year fellowships that will be awarded annually to PhD students enrolled in Columbia University’s Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science; 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, such as 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.”

Mary C. Boyce, dean of Columbia Engineering
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.
Credit: Jeffrey Schiffman/Columbia Engineering

“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.”

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.

“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.”

Shih-Fu Chang
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.
Credit: Diane Bondareff/Columbia University

Several Columbia faculty are also Amazon Scholars. In addition to Professor 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. Two other Amazon Scholars with New York connections include Deborah Estrin, a computer science professor at Cornell Tech in New York City, and Thorsten Joachims, a Cornell professor of computer science.

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 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.

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