IBM and the state of Illinois are partnering with the University of Illinois to invest $200 million over 10 years in a new Discovery Accelerator Institute.
The Grainger College of Engineering hopes to launch the new institute this fall, Dean Rashid Bashir said.
“We look forward to working with them to develop this new model of corporate-academic partnership to really better the world and make an impact,” Bashir said. “We really believe this will have a great impact on our university and the college and the region and the state.”
The collaboration will study hybrid cloud computing and artificial intelligence, quantum information systems, materials discovery and sustainability.
The institute will also include a building that will house some of the research with support from the state, and Bashir said more details about that would be provided in the future.
Bashir said experts from IBM will work with UI faculty on research and co-advise students.
“We hope there will be IBM researchers coming here and hope our students will visit IBM labs and work together,” Bashir said.
Bashir said the partnership emerged from the IBM-Illinois Center for Cognitive Computing Systems Research launched in 2016.
“The college has a great relationship with IBM through C3SR, and that center is completing its fifth-year this summer,” Bashir said. “So last fall, I had a meeting with the CEO of IBM and other leadership at IBM, and we discussed wanting to work together more. The broad goal is to have private-sector industry and academics work together in unique ways to expand our research and innovation capacity.”
Jeff Welser, the COO of IBM Research, said IBM “realized there’s an opportunity here to really try and grow something much larger.”
Welser and Bashir said they’ll spend the summer nailing down what the specific projects are before the institute launches in the fall.
IBM hopes to benefit from the partnership, Welser said, but said it should also benefit the broader industry.
“We want to not only obviously get the technology results, which we think will help us … but we think just growing the ecosystem of research in that area is important for the industry,” Welser said. “We’ll benefit, but obviously, many other people will benefit, too. We’ll be publishing papers on some of the results and doing open-source software that we can put out into the community.”
Bashir and Welser declined to share what the breakdown of the $200 million investment is, but Welser said it would be in the form of cash, computing resources and its own researchers’ time.
Welser said the name — Discovery Accelerator Institute — comes from an idea at IBM.
“We have this thesis right now at IBM that we’re calling discovery acceleration — that one of the most important things we can do with IT and computing technology in the coming years is finding ways to accelerate our ability to discover a new chemical, a new drug, a new material, and it can go beyond that — it might be a new financial instrument,” he said.
And with new technologies like AI and quantum computing, that process can speed up to a new level, Welser said.
“That was the reason for choosing these particular topics, and the reason for choosing UIUC was they had good research in all those areas, so it’s a good combination,” he said.