MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory

MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) is a research institute at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology formed by the 2003 merger of the Laboratory for Computer Science and the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Housed within the Stata Center, CSAIL is the largest on-campus laboratory as measured by research scope and membership.

MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory
Stata Center1
EstablishedJuly 1, 1963 (as Project MAC)
July 1, 2003 (as CSAIL)
Field of research
Computer science
DirectorDaniela L. Rus
AddressThe Stata Center (Building 32)
32 Vassar Street
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139
LocationCambridge, Massachusetts
Operating agency
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Research activities

CSAIL's research activities are organized around a number of semi-autonomous research groups, each of which is headed by one or more professors or research scientists. These groups are divided up into seven general areas of research:

In addition, CSAIL hosts the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).


Computing research at MIT began with Vannevar Bush's research into a differential analyzer and Claude Shannon's electronic Boolean algebra in the 1930s, the wartime Radiation Laboratory, the post-war Project Whirlwind and Research Laboratory of Electronics (RLE), and Lincoln Laboratory's SAGE in the early 1950s. At MIT, researches in the field of artificial intelligence began in late 1950s.[1]

Project MAC

On July 1, 1963, Project MAC (the Project on Mathematics and Computation, later backronymed to Multiple Access Computer, Machine Aided Cognitions, or Man and Computer) was launched with a $2 million grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Project MAC's original director was Robert Fano of MIT's Research Laboratory of Electronics (RLE). Fano decided to call MAC a "project" rather than a "laboratory" for reasons of internal MIT politics – if MAC had been called a laboratory, then it would have been more difficult to raid other MIT departments for research staff. The program manager responsible for the DARPA grant was J. C. R. Licklider, who had previously been at MIT conducting research in RLE, and would later succeed Fano as director of Project MAC.

Project MAC would become famous for groundbreaking research in operating systems, artificial intelligence, and the theory of computation. Its contemporaries included Project Genie at Berkeley, the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, and (somewhat later) University of Southern California's (USC's) Information Sciences Institute.

An "AI Group" including Marvin Minsky (the director), John McCarthy (inventor of Lisp) and a talented community of computer programmers was incorporated into the newly formed Project MAC. It was interested principally in the problems of vision, mechanical motion and manipulation, and language, which they view as the keys to more intelligent machines. In the 1960s - 1970s the AI Group shared a computer room with a computer (initially a PDP-6, and later a PDP-10) for which they built a time-sharing operating system called Incompatible Timesharing System (ITS).[2]

The early Project MAC community included Fano, Minsky, Licklider, Fernando J. Corbató, and a community of computer programmers and enthusiasts among others who drew their inspiration from former colleague John McCarthy. These founders envisioned the creation of a computer utility whose computational power would be as reliable as an electric utility. To this end, Corbató brought the first computer time-sharing system, Compatible Time-Sharing System (CTSS), with him from the MIT Computation Center, using the DARPA funding to purchase an IBM 7094 for research use. One of the early focuses of Project MAC would be the development of a successor to CTSS, Multics, which was to be the first high availability computer system, developed as a part of an industry consortium including General Electric and Bell Laboratories.

In 1966, Scientific American featured Project MAC in the September thematic issue devoted to computer science, that was later published in book form. At the time, the system was described as having approximately 100 TTY terminals, mostly on campus but with a few in private homes. Only 30 users could be logged in at the same time. The project enlisted students in various classes to use the terminals simultaneously in problem solving, simulations, and multi-terminal communications as tests for the multi-access computing software being developed.

LCS and AI Lab

In the late 1960s, Minsky's artificial intelligence group was seeking more space, and was unable to get satisfaction from project director Licklider. University space-allocation politics being what it is, Minsky found that although Project MAC as a single entity could not get the additional space he wanted, he could split off to form his own laboratory and then be entitled to more office space. As a result, the MIT AI Lab was formed in 1970, and many of Minsky's AI colleagues left Project MAC to join him in the new laboratory, while most of the remaining members went on to form the Laboratory for Computer Science (LCS). Talented programmers such as Richard Stallman and Guy L. Steele Jr., who used TECO to write EMACS, flourished in the AI Lab during this time.

Those researchers who did not join the smaller AI Lab formed the Laboratory for Computer Science and continued their research into operating systems, programming languages, distributed systems, and the theory of computation. Two professors, Hal Abelson and Gerald Jay Sussman, chose to remain neutral – their group was referred to variously as Switzerland and Project MAC for the next 30 years.

Among much else, the AI Lab led to the invention of Lisp machines and their attempted commercialization by two companies in the 1980s: Symbolics and Lisp Machines Inc. This divided the AI Lab into "camps" which resulted in a hiring away of many of the talented programmers. The incident inspired Richard Stallman's later work on the GNU project. "Nobody had envisioned that the AI lab's hacker group would be wiped out, but it was." ... "That is the basis for the free software movement – the experience I had, the life that I've lived at the MIT AI lab – to be working on human knowledge, and not be standing in the way of anybody's further using and further disseminating human knowledge".[3]


On the fortieth anniversary of Project MAC's establishment, July 1, 2003, LCS was merged with the AI Lab to form the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, or CSAIL. This merger created the largest laboratory (over 600 personnel) on the MIT campus and was regarded as a reuniting of the diversified elements of Project MAC.

Outreach activities

The IMARA (from Swahili word for "power") group sponsors a variety of outreach programs which bridge the Global Digital Divide. Its aim is to find and implement long-term, sustainable solutions which will increase the availability of educational technology and resources to domestic and international communities. These projects are run under the aegis of CSAIL and staffed by MIT volunteers who give training, install and donate computer setups in greater Boston, Massachusetts, Kenya, Native American Indian tribal reservations in the American Southwest such as the Navajo Nation, the Middle East, and Fiji Islands. The CommuniTech project strives to empower under-served communities through sustainable technology and education and does this through the MIT Used Computer Factory (UCF), providing refurbished computers to under-served families, and through the Families Accessing Computer Technology (FACT) classes, it trains those families to become familiar and comfortable with computer technology.[4][5][6]

Notable researchers

(Including members and alumni of CSAIL's predecessor laboratories)

Notable alumni

Several Project MAC alumni went on to further revolutionize the computer industry.


Directors of Project MAC
Directors of the AI Lab
Directors of the Laboratory for Computer Science
Directors of CSAIL

See also


  1. ^ Marvin Minsky. "bibliography".
  2. ^ Eastlake, Donald E. (1969). ITS Reference Manual, Version 1.5 (PDF (large)). MIT AI Laboratory.
  3. ^ Transcript of Richard Stallman's Speech], 28 Oct 2002, at the International Lisp Conference, from, accessed Sept 2012
  4. ^ Outreach activities at CSAIL Archived 2010-06-02 at the Wayback Machine - CSAIL homepage, MIT.
  5. ^ IMARA Project at MIT
  6. ^ Fizz, Robyn; Mansur, Karla (2008-06-04), "Helping MIT neighbors cross the 'digital divide'" (PDF), MIT Tech Talk, Cambridge: MIT, p. 3

Further reading

External links

Anant Agarwal

Anant Agarwal is an Indian computer architecture researcher. He is a professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he led the development of Alewife, an early cache coherent multiprocessor, and also has served as director of the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. He is the founder and CTO of Tilera, a fabless semiconductor company focusing on scalable multicore embedded processor design. He also serves as the CEO of edX, a joint partnership between MIT and Harvard University that offers free online learning.

Aude Oliva

Aude Oliva is a French professor of computer vision, neuroscience, and human-computer interaction at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL).

Boris Katz

Boris Katz, born in Kishinev, Moldavian SSR, Soviet Union (now Chișinău, Moldova) is a principal research scientist (computer scientist) at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and head of the Laboratory's InfoLab Group. His research interests include natural language processing and understanding, machine learning and intelligent information access. His brother Victor Kac is a mathematician at MIT.

He was able to get out of the USSR with the help of U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy, before the end of the cold war.Over the last several decades, Boris Katz has been developing the START natural language system that allows the user to access various types of information using English.

Center for Biological and Computational Learning

The Center for Biological & Computational Learning is a research lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

CBCL was established in 1992 with support from the National Science Foundation. It is based in the Department of Brain & Cognitive Sciences at MIT, and is associated with the McGovern Institute for Brain Research, and the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.

It was founded with the belief that learning is at the very core of the problem of intelligence, both biological and artificial. Learning is thus the gateway to understanding how the human brain works and for making intelligent machines. CBCL studies the problem of learning within a multidisciplinary approach. Its main goal is to nurture serious research on the mathematics, the engineering and the neuroscience of learning.

Research is focused on the problem of learning in theory, engineering applications, and neuroscience.

In computational neuroscience, the center has developed a model of the ventral stream in the visual cortex which accounts for much of the physiological data, and psychophysical experiments in difficult object recognition tasks. The model performs at the level of the best computer vision systems.

Constantinos Daskalakis

Constantinos Daskalakis (Greek: Κωνσταντίνος Δασκαλάκης; born 29 April 1981) is a Greek theoretical computer scientist. He is a professor at MIT's Electrical Engineering and Computer Science department and a member of the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. He was awarded the Rolf Nevanlinna Prize in 2018.

John J. Leonard

John J. Leonard is an American roboticist and Professor of Mechanical and Ocean Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. A member of the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), Leonard is a researcher in simultaneous localization and mapping, and was the team lead for MIT's team at the 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge, one of the six teams to cross the finish line in the final event, placing fourth overall.

Leonard received his B.S. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Pennsylvania in 1987 and his D.Phil. in Engineering Science from the University of Oxford in 1994, under the Thouron Award. He spent five years as a postdoctoral fellow and Research Scientist in the MIT Sea Grant Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) Laboratory, and joined the MIT faculty in 1996.Leonard is one of the early pioneers of SLAM with Hugh F. Durrant-Whyte.Leonard has served as an associate editor of the IEEE Journal of Oceanic Engineering and of the IEEE Transactions on Robotics and Automation. He received the National Science Foundation Career Award in 1998, an E.T.S. Walton Visitor Award from Science Foundation Ireland in 2004, and the King-Sun Fu Memorial Best IEEE Transactions on Robotics Paper Award in 2006.

Leonard describes his primary research goal as persistent autonomy, i.e., the "capability for one or more robots to operate robustly for days, weeks and months at a time with minimal human supervision, in complex, dynamic environments". Leonard focuses on the problem of simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM), particularly for autonomous underwater vehicles.


LCS35 is a cryptographic challenge and a puzzle set by Ron Rivest in 1999. The challenge is to calculate the value

where t is a 14-digit (or 47-bit) integer, namely 79685186856218, and n is a 616 digit (or 2048 bit) integer which is the product of two large primes (which are not given). The value of w can then be used to decrypt the ciphertext z, another 616 digit integer. The plaintext provides the concealed information about the factorisation of n, allowing the solution to be easily verified.

The idea behind the challenge is that the only known way to find the value of w without knowing the factorisation of n is by t successive squarings. The value of t was chosen to make this brute force calculation take about 35 years using 1999 chip speeds as a starting point and taking into account Moore's law. Rivest notes that "just as a failure of Moore's Law could make the puzzle harder than intended, a breakthrough in the art of factoring would make the puzzle easier than intended."

The challenge was set at (and takes its name from) the 35th anniversary celebrations of the MIT Laboratory for Computer Science, now part of MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.


LabelMe is a project created by the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) which provides a dataset of digital images with annotations. The dataset is dynamic, free to use, and open to public contribution. The most applicable use of LabelMe is in computer vision research. As of October 31, 2010, LabelMe has 187,240 images, 62,197 annotated images, and 658,992 labeled objects.

Liuba Shrira

Liuba Shrira is a professor of computer science at Brandeis University, whose research interests primarily involve distributed systems.Liuba Shrira received her PhD from Technion.Shrira is affiliated with the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, was a researcher in the MIT Programming Methodology Group, and has been a visiting researcher at Microsoft Research.Shrira is also a visiting professor at Technion (2010–present)

She is a member of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), which has recognized her as a Distinguished Scientist in 2009, and the IEEE Computer Society.Shrira was one of the founding members of the Systers mailing list for women in computing.

MIT Center for Collective Intelligence

The MIT Center for Collective Intelligence (CCI) is a research center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, headed by Professor Thomas W. Malone, that focuses on the study of collective intelligence.

The Center for Collective Intelligence brings together faculty from across MIT to conduct research on how new communications technologies are changing the way people work together. It involves people from many diverse organizations across MIT including; the MIT Media Lab, the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, the MIT Sloan School of Management, and the Dalai Lama Center for 21st Century Ethics and Transformative Values.

Microphone array

A microphone array is any number of microphones operating in tandem. There are many applications:

Systems for extracting voice input from ambient noise (notably telephones, speech recognition systems, hearing aids)

Surround sound and related technologies

Binaural recording

Locating objects by sound: acoustic source localization, e.g., military use to locate the source(s) of artillery fire. Aircraft location and tracking.

High fidelity original recordings

Environmental Noise MonitoringTypically, an array is made up of omnidirectional microphones, directional microphones, or a mix of omnidirectional and directional microphones distributed about the perimeter of a space, linked to a computer that records and interprets the results into a coherent form. Arrays may also be formed using numbers of very closely spaced microphones. Given a fixed physical relationship in space between the different individual microphone transducer array elements, simultaneous DSP (digital signal processor) processing of the signals from each of the individual microphone array elements can create one or more "virtual" microphones. Different algorithms permit the creation of virtual microphones with extremely complex virtual polar patterns and even the possibility to steer the individual lobes of the virtual microphones patterns so as to home-in-on, or to reject, particular sources of sound. The application of these algorithms can produce varying levels of accuracy when calculating source level and location, and as such, care should be taken when deciding how the individual lobes of the virtual microphones are derived.In case the array consists of omnidirectional microphones they accept sound from all directions, so electrical signals of the microphones contain the information about the sounds coming from all directions. Joint processing of these sounds allows selecting the sound signal coming from the given direction.An array of 1020 microphones [1], the largest in the world until August 21, 2014, was built by researchers at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.

Currently the largest microphone array in the world was constructed by Sorama, a Netherlands-based sound engineering firm, in August 2014. Their array consists of 4096 microphones.[2][3]

Mike McMahon (computer scientist)

Mike McMahon was a programmer at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory during the 1970s who worked with Richard Stallman on Emacs. He also wrote EINE, the first implementation of Emacs for Lisp machines with Daniel Weinreb. EINE stands for "EINE Is Not Emacs". EINE later became ZWEI (meaning, "ZWEI Was EINE, Initially").He is one of the founders of Symbolics Inc., a company developing and selling Lisp Machines in the 1980s and 1990s.Mike McMahon co-developed the New Error System from Symbolics, which was the main inspiration for the Common Lisp Condition System.Mike McMahon designed and implemented the New Window System for the MIT Lisp Machine in 1980 together with Howard Cannon. The window system was implemented using the Flavors object-oriented extension to Lisp Machine Lisp.

Regina Barzilay

Regina Barzilay (born 1970) is a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a member of MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Her research interests are in natural language processing and applications of deep learning to chemistry and oncology.

Rodney Brooks

Rodney Allen Brooks (born 30 December 1954) is an Australian roboticist, Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science, author, and robotics entrepreneur, most known for popularizing the actionist approach to robotics. He was a Panasonic Professor of Robotics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and former director of the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. He is a founder and former Chief Technical Officer of iRobot and co-Founder, Chairman and Chief Technical Officer of Rethink Robotics (formerly Heartland Robotics). Outside the scientific community Brooks is also known for his appearance in a film featuring him and his work, Fast, Cheap & Out of Control.

SCM (Scheme implementation)

SCM is a programming language, a dialect of the language Scheme. It is written in the language C, by Aubrey Jaffer, the author of the SLIB Scheme library and the JACAL interactive computer algebra (symbolic mathematics) program. It conforms to the standards R4RS, R5RS, and IEEE P1178. It is free and open-source software released under a GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL).SCM runs on many different operating systems such as AmigaOS (also emulation), Linux, Atari-ST, macOS (SCM Mac), DOS, OS/2, NOS/VE, Unicos, VMS, Unix, and similar systems.

SCM includes Hobbit, a Scheme-to-C compiler written originally in 2002 by Tanel Tammet. It generates C files which binaries can be dynamically or statically linked with an SCM executable. SCM includes linkable modules for SLIB features like sequence comparison, arrays, records, and byte-number conversions, and modules for Portable Operating System Interface (POSIX) system calls and network sockets, Readline, curses, and Xlib.

On some platforms, SCM supports unexec (developed for Emacs and bash), which dumps an executable image from a running SCM. This results in a fast startup for SCM.

SCM developed from Scheme In One Defun (SIOD) in about 1990. GNU Guile developed from SCM in 1993.

Science Commons

Science Commons (SC) was a Creative Commons project for designing strategies and tools for faster, more efficient web-enabled scientific research. The organization's goals were to identify unnecessary barriers to research, craft policy guidelines and legal agreements to lower those barriers, and develop technology to make research data and materials easier to find and use. Its overarching goal was to speed the translation of data into discovery and thereby the value of research.

Science Commons was located at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory in the Ray and Maria Stata Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Stochastic neural analog reinforcement calculator

SNARC (Stochastic Neural Analog Reinforcement Calculator) is a neural net machine designed by Marvin Lee Minsky. George Miller gathered the funding for the project from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research in the summer of 1951. At the time, one of Minsky's graduate students at Princeton, Dean Edmonds, volunteered that he was good with electronics and therefore Minsky brought him onto the project.

The machine itself is a randomly connected network of approximately 40 Hebb synapses. These synapses each have a memory that holds the probability that signal comes in one input and another signal will come out of the output. There is a probability knob that goes from 0 to 1 that shows this probability of the signals propagating. If the probability signal gets through, a capacitor remembers this function and engages a "clutch". At this point, the operator will press a button to give reward to the machine. At this point, a large motor starts and there is a chain that goes to all 40 synapse machines, checking if the clutch is engaged or not. As the capacitor can only "remember" for a certain amount of time, the chain only catches the most recent updates of the probabilities.

This machine is considered one of the first pioneering attempts at the field of artificial intelligence. Minsky went on to be a founding member of MIT's Project MAC, which split to become the MIT Laboratory for Computer Science and the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab, and is now the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. In 1985 Minsky became a founding member of the MIT Media Laboratory.

Tom Knight (scientist)

Tom Knight is an American synthetic biologist and computer engineer, who was formerly a senior research scientist at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, a part of the MIT School of Engineering. He now works at the synthetic biology company Ginkgo Bioworks, which he cofounded in 2008.

Tomaso Poggio

Tomaso Armando Poggio (born September 11, 1947 in Genoa, Italy), is the Eugene McDermott professor in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, an investigator at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research, a member of the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and director of both the Center for Biological and Computational Learning at MIT and the Center for Brains, Minds, and Machines, a multi-institutional collaboration headquartered at the McGovern Institute since 2013.

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