Dr Eric Xing says machine learning and computer vision courses are the building blocks of an ambitious curriculum.
The man leading the world’s first dedicated artificial intelligence research university has set himself a challenging target: to put the UAE “on the map of AI superpowers”.
Speaking to The National, Dr Eric Xing, a world-renowned computer science professor, who was appointed president of Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence last year, outlined his bold vision for the pioneering institution.
“It’s very simple to say but very hard to execute. My vision is to really use this opportunity to turn MBZUAI into one of the major players, and use this as a platform to train talent and the workforce for the local economy and for the community.” he said.
Prior to joining MBZUAI in November, Dr Xing was associate head of research at the machine learning department at Carnegie Mellon University in the US, one of the leading AI research institutes in the world.
His first priority for MBZUAI was to develop a “critical mass” of research output and impact in the shortest amount of time possible.
“I don’t want to be the ones who bought the ocean by doing everything, and end up mediocre in all dimensions,” he said.
Instead, the university’s curriculum is focused on two areas: machine learning, which provides the mathematical foundation of AI, and computer vision, which takes machine learning a step further to identify and analyse images and videos.
Over time, the plan is to add departments such as healthcare, energy and industry, Dr Xing said. “Those areas where there is a good synergy and a strategic priority in the nation for us, the UAE, then we want to tap into our ecosystem and to help our community to benefit.”
He also said he hopes to bring AI “out of the ivory tower” and put it into practice in the UAE.
“Usually with research universities, the only goal is to produce more researchers who will be entering other universities as professors,” Dr Xing said. While that remains important for MBZUAI, he said he would like graduates to go on “to be engineers, executives and government officials in our community”.
“We’re in a stage of AI development where there is still a lot of fear. It’s like when the automobile was invented. People were scared and they wanted to keep using a horse and buggy’s”.
Dr Xing, who served as a visiting research professor at Facebook, said he sees enormous potential for AI to help social media companies more quickly identify the spread of false information and accelerate messaging that can improve public health, such as the adoption of mask wearing..
This month, MBZUAI admitted its first class of students, 13 pursuing doctorates and 65 earning their master’s degrees in machine learning and computer vision. The deadline for applications for the autumn 2021 semester is April 15.
The full interview is available on The National website.