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Virginia Tech / Amazon Establish Machine Learning Research Partnership

Virginia Tech and Amazon are partnering to advance research and innovation in artificial intelligence and machine learning. The Amazon – Virginia Tech Initiative for Efficient and Robust Machine Learning will include machine learning-focused research projects, doctoral student fellowships, community outreach, and an establishment of a shared advisory board.

“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,” said Virginia Tech President Tim Sands. “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.”

“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 ground-breaking advances in robust machine learning,” said Prem Natarajan, vice president of Alexa AI – Natural Understanding at Amazon. “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.”

Amazon and Virginia Tech share a unique history in connection with Amazon’s selection of Arlington, Virginia, for its HQ2. The commonwealth’s $1 billion investment in higher education, seeding the doubling of existing computer science and computer engineering programs in Blacksburg, Virginia, helped attract Amazon and was the catalyst for launching the Virginia Tech Innovation Campus.

Housed in the College of Engineering and led by Sanghani Center for Artificial Intelligence and Data Analytics researchers on Virginia Tech’s campuses in Blacksburg, Virginia and at the Innovation Campus, in Alexandria, Virginia, the partnership will support faculty and student-led development and implementation of innovative approaches to machine learning.

“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, the 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.”

The new partnership will create opportunities for Virginia Tech graduate and doctoral level students who are interested in and currently pursuing educational and research experiences in artificial intelligence-focused fields. Fellowships will be awarded to Virginia Tech doctoral students that includes an Amazon internship intended to provide students a greater understanding of industry and purpose-driven research. Named Amazon Fellows in recognition of their scholarly achievements, doctoral students who are currently enrolled in their second, third, or fourth year in the College of Engineering will be eligible to apply. Each fellow will be invited to interview for a paid Amazon internship during the summer after the internship year.

As part of the initiative, Virginia Tech faculty members will be invited to submit machine learning sponsored research projects for Amazon that work to revolutionize the way the world uses and understands this field of modern technology. Research project proposals may include support for students and staff.

“The Sanghani Center brings vast research expertise in machine learning and artificial intelligence that spans computer science, statistics, electrical and computer engineering, and mathematics disciplines,” said Naren Ramakrishnan, director of the Sanghani Center and the Thomas L. Phillips Professor of Engineering. “This initiative’s emphasis will be on efficient and robust machine learning, such as ensuring algorithms and models are resistant to errors and adversaries. We’re pleased to continue our work with Amazon and expand machine learning research capabilities that could address world-wide industry-focused problems.”

The center collaborates with dozens of global companies and federal agencies on machine-learning projects that emphasize the algorithmic aspects of converting data to knowledge, coupled with the importance of human-in-the-loop analytics to arrive at insights, says Ramakrishnan.

Invested in Research Frontiers, which includes the Artificial Intelligence Frontier, the university is committed to bringing together diverse expertise that transcends disciplinary boundaries to address emerging challenges that seek to improve the human condition and create a better world for all.

“Forging new and expanding partnerships with industry leaders like Amazon is a critical component to enable growth of Virginia Tech’s research portfolio and capabilities” said Dan Sui, senior vice president and chief research and innovation officer at Virginia Tech. “With Amazon researchers and Virginia Tech’s depth of expertise in artificial intelligence-related research, we aim to accelerate human-centric technology advances that will have implications for future generations.”

In addition to the ability to expand machine learning-focused research projects and doctoral student fellowships, Virginia Tech will host an annual public research symposium to share their knowledge with the machine learning and research-related communities. Together with Amazon, the university will co-host two annual workshops, and training and recruiting events for Virginia Tech students.

Amazon and Virginia Tech will establish a collaborative advisory board to provide inputs on strategic directions for the partnership, review proposals for research projects, award fellowships, and engage in community outreach.

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