Amazon, Va. Tech partner on machine learning initiative
Blacksburg, Alexandria campuses will both play roles
Virginia Tech announced Thursday morning that it is partnering with Amazon.com Inc. on an artificial intelligence and machine learning research initiative that will have a presence at both Tech’s Blacksburg campus and its emerging Innovation Campus in Alexandria.
Dubbed the Amazon-Virginia Tech Initiative for Efficient and Robust Machine Learning, the program will include doctoral student fellowships, research projects and community outreach, as well as a shared advisory board. It will be housed at Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering in Blacksburg and at the Sanghani Center for Artificial Intelligence and Data Analytics, which will be in the first building at the Innovation Campus, a $302 million center currently under construction.
“This partnership affirms the value of our connection to Amazon as we scale up project-based learning and research programs in artificial intelligence and machine learning,” Virginia Tech President Tim Sands said in a statement. “Building Virginia Tech’s strength and expertise in these fields will support critical technological advancements and our commitment to fuel workforce development in the commonwealth.”
Virginia Tech played a major role in luring the e-tail giant to Arlington, where it is building its $2.5 billion-plus HQ2 East Coast headquarters, where 25,000 people are expected to be employed by 2030. Tech has started construction of its $1 billion Innovation Campus in Alexandria, just a short distance from HQ2, and the university has pledged to produce about 16,000 more computer science and engineering bachelor’s and master’s degree graduates over the next 20 years.
“We are delighted to collaborate with Virginia Tech in launching this new initiative, which brings together the top talent in our two organizations in a joint mission to achieve groundbreaking advances in robust machine learning,” said Prem Natarajan, Amazon’s vice president of Alexa AI – natural understanding. “The proximity of this initiative to Amazon’s HQ2 will catalyze research efforts that leverage the depth of talent in the Northern Virginia area to address some of the most pressing challenges in AI.”
The Sanghani Center is supported by a $10 million gift from Reston-based Octo Consulting Group CEO Mehul Sanghani and his wife, Hema, who are both Tech graduates. According to the university, graduate and doctoral students, as well as faculty members, will have the opportunity to submit machine learning sponsored research projects for Amazon. Machine learning is a branch of artificial intelligence that focuses on algorithms that can improve performance through experience and the use of data.
Also part of the program will be a group of fellowships awarded to Virginia Tech doctoral students in the engineering school. Each Amazon Fellow will be invited to interview for a paid Amazon internship during the summer after winning the fellowship. Tech also will co-host two annual workshops, as well as training and recruiting events for students, and the partners will establish a collaborative advisory board to provide input for the program’s direction and review research proposals.
“Virginia Tech is growing research and graduate programs in critical disciplines to meet the needs of industry and fuel the tech sector economy across the commonwealth and beyond,” said Julia M. Ross, Tech’s Paul and Dorothea Torgersen Dean of Engineering. “This new partnership with Amazon will fuel ongoing and future investment in research and education in AI-centric fields, and will provide important support for graduate students in these areas. We’re also excited to have engineering faculty and students working alongside industry leaders on these important technological advances and discoveries.”