Introduction and Welcome
December 2, 2022
November 4, 2022
All Captioned Videos Advances in the quest to understand intelligence
Jim DiCarlo, MIT BCS, MIT Quest, MIT CBMM
Nergis Mavalvala, Dean of MIT School of Science
JAMES DICARLO: My name is Jim DiCarlo. I'm a professor in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences. And I'm the director of MIT's Quest for Intelligence, and also the co-director of MIT's Center for Brains, Minds, and Machines. And on behalf of MIT Quest and CBMM, it's really my privilege to welcome you here today. We've had an enthusiastic response to this. And many people are viewing this online. We're streaming this as well.
And so we have a really full agenda. And we're going to try to keep on schedule. So I'm not going to say much more than this. Really, what I'd like to start with is really sort of one of the highlights of the day, is we have our Dean of the School of Science, Dean Nergis Mavalvala. And she's going to kick us off. And she's going to tell us a bit-- I could go on and on about her amazing scientific accomplishments in physics, and-- but in the interest of time, I'm just going to welcome her to the floor. So Nergis, thank you for joining us. So could we give her round of applause please? Thank you.
NERGIS MAVALVALA: So thank you, Jim. And I really worry for you if I'm the highlight of your day. I assure you the day is much more exciting than me. But I will try to kick you off with some excitement. So I've been thinking a lot about what Quest means. So I'm Nergis Mavalvala, as Jim said. I'm the Dean of the School of Science. But first and foremost, I'm also an experimental physicist.
And there's a few times in a lifetime that we can experience the birth of a new scientific field, and of sort of the emergence of some life altering knowledge. And sometimes, we know the enormity of that moment in that moment. And sometimes, we don't know it for until years or decades later.
Sometimes, it's entirely chance, luck, serendipity. And sometimes, it's deliberate and comes from a deliberate moonshot question. Sometimes, the question was ordinary, sometimes it's big. And this is really what excites me about the Quest for Intelligence. I know it's really-- its mission is to understand the science of intelligence. I mean, I can't imagine a bigger, more moonshoty question. And so that's sort of the thing that I'm so excited about.
And Quest is all of the things I just said. It's actually a pretty simple question. It's been asked by humans for millennia. Right? And yet, it has profound consequences. It's also a moonshot. Yes. But remember, moonshots are not just something that magically happens in the future. It has tractable goals and methodologies. So that's really important.
It is hard. It will take years. And it has the potential to birth a new scientific field. This is the part that we should be so excited about. Now I can say this with some confidence, and also with some envy, because I myself have been part of the birth of a new scientific field, and the other side of my career. I joined the search for gravitational waves as a graduate student in 1991 here at MIT.
And the first discoveries of these imperceptibly faint ripples of spacetime itself came to us in our instruments in 2015. That was 40 years after the first serious investments were made in the instruments that could detect these waves, and a hundred years after Einstein predicted that they should exist, and they should carry information to us from the dark side of the universe. So if you're thinking about long planning moonshots, we can really-- that's an example of that.
And there were fits and starts, just as there will be in any big endeavor. Einstein himself doubted that the waves existed. He doubted his own calculations. They popped out of his calculation and he said, no. The universe can't be like that. Then he retracted their existence, and then he retracted the retraction. So there were-- and in my own career as a graduate student here in the 1990s, my friends were all like, you're crazy. This is never going to work. These instruments can't be that precise.
So they cautioned me against joining Ray Weiss in this hunt. So it was a moonshot. It needed sustained investments of money, of time, and of huge intellectual and technological horsepower. It was complex and expensive, LIGO, the instruments that detected gravitational waves. But eventually, the scientific community came behind it and decided, was convinced, that it was worth doing. And that's when you get to the scale of the national investments at the billions of dollar level.
And this is where we are, at the very beginning stages with Quest today. This is an enormously complex problem that will take those kinds of investments, long term investments of money and thought. But I ask all of you who are here to imagine the future and to think about whether we could be gathered here to witness the birth of a new field with all of its growing pains and with unimagined discoveries that could come.
Now history will tell if this is that moment, if this is the-- if Quest is the entity that will help us get there. But for now, we have work to do. Let's roll up our sleeves and get to making discoveries to building the enabling technologies that will let us get there. And for those of you here and out there who have the capacity to do that, it's also a time to invest. So get out your checkbooks and enable that future.
Now this all might sound really, really poetic and futuristic. And so I'm going to bring it back to Jim, who will bring it back to the here and now, and for this amazing day full of talks and discussions about the science that's already under way. This is not some pie in the sky future. And so welcome, everybody. And I hope you have a wonderful day here today. I wish I could be here for all of it, but I will be in and out. So thank you, Jim. And welcome, everyone.