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Google, Tel Aviv University set up joint AI-based research program

Three-year multidisciplinary initiative aims to address global social, environmental, economic challenges; 10 projects selected

Shoshanna Solomon is The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

Left to Right: Prof. Yossi Matias, Google VP and Managing Director of the Google Center in Israel; Prof. Ariel Porat, president of Tel Aviv University; Prof. Meir Feder, head of TAU Center for Artificial Intelligence and Data Science (TAD) and Prof. Tova Milo (Courtesy)
Left to Right: Prof. Yossi Matias, Google VP and Managing Director of the Google Center in Israel; Prof. Ariel Porat, president of Tel Aviv University; Prof. Meir Feder, head of TAU Center for Artificial Intelligence and Data Science (TAD) and Prof. Tova Milo (Courtesy)

US tech giant Google and Tel Aviv University have launched a three-year program to promote AI-related multidisciplinary research to address global social, economic and environmental challenges.

The program aims to support the combination of data science and artificial intelligence for a variety of projects. The initiative was launched in March, within the framework the TAU Center for Artificial Intelligence and Data Science (TAD) that was set up earlier this year and is headed by Prof. Meir Feder of the Iby and Aladar Fleischman Faculty of Engineering.

The new program will provide grants to Tel Aviv University researchers for their work. Ten projects, all addressing the theme “AI for Social Good,” have already been selected, out of 27 proposals submitted in response to TAU and Google’s joint call.

As part of the collaboration, Google will provide funding for seven of the selected projects, with the remaining three funded by TAD. The total amount of money provided by Google for the program was undisclosed.

The researchers come from a wide range of disciplines including zoology (from the Faculty of Life Sciences), electrical engineering, economics, statistics, communication disorders, biblical studies, earth sciences and computer science, sociology and anthropology. Among other projects, they will use AI to decipher ancient scripts, study mother-child interactions to look for communication and behavioral patterns, and examine the behavior of fish, said TAD’s Prof. Feder by phone.

The idea is to get AI researchers together with others from social sciences and humanities, so they can benefit from each other and build “bridges” between the different disciplines, said TAU president Prof. Ariel Porat in the statement.

Porat added that he hopes the partnership with Google will expand further in the future.

Prof. Yossi Matias, VP at Google and managing director of Google Center in Israel, said AI technologies already have a “great impact in various areas,” and the program will “harness the power of AI for social good and for science.”

Google’s social projects include a worldwide project for accurate flood forecasting, technology enabling the hearing-impaired to conduct phone conversations, and studies on the use of AI to enhance disease diagnosis, he said.

Cooperation between academia and multinationals like Google is important, as both sides can benefit from the pooling of knowledge, explained TAD’s Feder. Israeli researchers have worked ad hoc with Google teams on joint projects, he said, and this partnership is the first one set up within a framework. TAD is also in touch with other multinationals for added collaborations, he said, without specifying.

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