Israeli MIT Prof. Regina Barzilay Wins $1 Million AI Award

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Regina Barzilay MIT

Regina Barzilay, an Israeli born scientist, has won the first ever $1 million Squirrel AI Award for Artificial Intelligence for the Benefit of Humanity from the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence. Barzilay is a leading AI researcher.

We know what you are thinking: but isn’t AI a threat to humanity? Well you have probably seen too many movies like “The Matrix” and “The Terminator.” AI is about letting machines do the really, really hard and extensive types of calculations which are necessary for any advanced technological development. The human brain is limited and people need rest and recreation. Machines don’t so a super smart computer can be left on all the time and do the work of countless Albert Einsteins at the same time.

A member of the MIT faculty since 2003, Professor Barzilay has conducted research on a range of topics in computer science, from explainable machine learning to deciphering dead languages. She is receiving the Squirrel AI Award specifically in recognition for her work developing machine learning models to develop antibiotics and other drugs, and to detect and diagnose breast cancer at early stages. It will be formally presented to her in February, Corona permitting.

A survivor of breast cancer herself, she created algorithms for early breast cancer diagnosis and risk assessment that have been tested at multiple hospitals around the globe, including in Sweden, Taiwan, and at Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital. Talk about inspirational!

She doesn’t just make lemonade out of life’s lemons, she makes sorbet too. Barzilay is now working with breast cancer organizations such as Institute Protea in Brazil to make her diagnostic tools available for underprivileged populations around the world. Nobel Peace Prize anyone?

“Through my own life experience, I came to realize that we can create technology that can alleviate human suffering and change our understanding of diseases,” says Barzilay, who is also a member of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research. “I feel lucky to have found collaborators who share my passion and who have helped me realize this vision.”

God bless this woman. Or maybe considering the time of year we should be asking for her blessing?

“Only world-renowned recognitions, such as the Association of Computing Machinery’s A.M. Turing Award and the Nobel Prize, carry monetary rewards at the million-dollar level,” says AAAI awards committee chair Yolanda Gil. “This award aims to be unique in recognizing the positive impact of artificial intelligence for humanity.”

“Regina has made truly-changing breakthroughs in imaging breast cancer and predicting the medicinal activity of novel chemicals,” says MIT biology professor Phillip Sharp, a Nobel laureate who has served as director of both the McGovern Institute for Brain Research and what’s now the Koch Institute. “I am honored to have as a colleague someone who is such a pioneer in using deeply creative machine learning methods to transform the fields of healthcare and biological science.”

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