The Fe-male Tech Heroes conference, Dare to Grow, was about making connections ... connections with other women in tech and their male allies. But the 2023 event might be best remembered as the day Eindhoven connected with Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston.
In a special event at High Tech Campus Eindhoven’s AI Innovation Center, “How to collaborate with MIT,” Lori Glover briefed an SRO crowd of 85 Eindhoven innovators on how the legendary American engineering school turns research into world-changing tech companies. (Glover, Managing Director, Global Strategic Alliances at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory – CSAIL – was also a Fe+male Tech Heroes conference keynote.)
While in Europe, Glover reached out to HTCE to begin what promises to be an incredibly productive relationship considering MIT’s scale, reputation and impact. At the AI Innovation Center talk, she gave an overview of CSAIL, which counts multiple Nobel laureates, including Internet inventor Tim Berners-Lee on its staff.
CSAIL is all about innovation at the intersection of disciplines. The largest MIT lab, CSAIL has 126 principal investigators and more than 1,000 students and includes the College of Computing, MIT’s only college. Each principal investigator runs a lab on a specific topic and each has students and other researchers in their group – anywhere from four to 40 people – with an $80 million research volume, Glover said.
This is an ecosystem where everyone is a founder.
CSAIL has 500 startups “that we even know of,” Glover said. “Anyone can do a startup; they don't have to tell anyone. We're just a very, very innovative, entrepreneurial space where a lot of our tech really does become really great companies.”
That approach produces technology that’s beyond futuristic.
Recently, MIT researchers created a surgical robot smaller than her fingernail, Glover said. The robot is made of sausage casing. Patients swallow a caplet containing the robot, the robot completes the surgery, then is eliminated by the digestive system.
“That came about because you have a preeminent mathematician and a roboticist who really collide over coffee and talk about possibilities and things they can do,” she said.
MIT’s mission is to educate students to solve significant societal problems. Of course, that means advanced research, Glover said. “But really, (the mission) is to improve the way people live, work, play and learn around the world through computation.”
CSAIL spinoffs include:
Akamai, a publicly listed content delivery network
Boston Dynamics, which makes the world’s most advanced robots
Dropbox, the large-scale file sharing and workspace software invented by Drew Houston
OK Cupid, one of the original virtual dating services
Though MIT is great at producing revolutionary companies, commercialization is not the prime motivator, Glover said. “They didn't go into it thinking, ‘I'm going to create that.’ They wanted to see what is possible, what can we do and what the data can teach us.”
The final portion of the hour was an exchange with the audience that included AI startup founders, venture builders or teams who work in AI companies at the AI Innovation Center.
Unsurprisingly, considering the location, everyone wanted to talk about AI, particularly how to harness a technology even ChatGTP founder Sam Altman has said could cause “significant harm to the world” without urgent intervention by governments.
But no one knows how to do that, Glover said. American regulators have said AI must be transparent; must be explainable. “We can't do that. And yet we're using it.”
Andy Lürling, co-founder and partner at LUMO labs, noted that while European regulations are already in place, “it’s all about execution.” Lürling said he was invited recently to Microsoft to discuss ethics and transparency “and the politics, of course. They have a framework for everything based on transparency, responsibility, ethical, etc. So, it is more, ‘How do we get everybody aligned to execute on these frameworks?’ ”
Sako Arts, co-founder and co-CTO of FruitPunch AI, a LUMO Labs AI education startup, said he was “relieved” to see EU regulators want startups to report if the data comes via AI. “I was pleasantly surprised about the accuracy, I guess, of where the European law pressures users on data and disclosure. But we still have the room for innovation. So, that's encouraging.”
With the emergence and ubiquitous nature of AI, this is “such an important part of time in history,” Glover noted, a time when Europe and the U.S. must work together. “How do we work together? Collectively, there should be things we agree on” to use the technology to benefit all.