Head of Google donates $2 million to Institute for Advanced Study for machine learning program

Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google, and his wife Wendy Schmidt, president of the Schmidt Family Foundation, are donating $2 million to the Institute for Advanced Study for the launch of a program in theoretical machine learning.

The gift will help fund a three-year program in the Institute’s mathematics school that will begin this fall. The program will focus on developing the mathematical underpinnings of machine learning, including unsupervised learning, optimization, and statistics. The program will also explore connections to neighboring fields, including biology, computer vision, natural language processing, neuroscience, and social science.

The program will be led by Sanjeev Arora, a Princeton University professor who will be a visiting professor at the Institute. The program will include postdoctoral researchers and visitors in the school of mathematics.

Professors at the Institute say the quest to understand the power and limits of machine learning methods will create a rich source of questions in the field and lead to new collaborations with the Institute’s computer science and discrete math program. The program has been led by Avi Wigderson since he joined the Faculty in 1999.

“We are grateful to Eric and Wendy for this generous donation, which enables the expansion of computer science research at the Institute and positions us with the most exciting developments in the field,” Wigderson said. “Machine learning techniques are finding new applications almost daily and are already transforming society in numerous ways, but these methods, and the resulting technology, are far from well understood, both from efficiency and vulnerability viewpoints. These important issues beg theoretical understanding and guidance.”

Foundational work on both theory and practice of computer science has taken place at the Institute from the early days of the field. In 1945, a group of engineers and mathematician John von Neumann developed one of the first stored-program computers. Its structure formed the mathematical basis of computer hardware and software, and strongly influenced the development of modern computing.

“This incredible gift from Eric and Wendy highlights the importance of basic research and supports our endeavors to explore the deepest and most relevant questions about our world,” said Institute Director Robbert Dijkgraaf in a statement about the Schmidt’s donation. “We are honored to be able to continue the Institute’s strong tradition and history of pioneering the fundamental aspects of computer science.”