The Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory – known as CSAIL – is the largest research laboratory at MIT and one of the world’s most important centers of information technology research.
CSAIL and its members have played a key role in the computer revolution. The Lab’s researchers have been key movers in developments like time-sharing, massively parallel computers, public key encryption, the mass commercialization of robots, and much of the technology underlying the ARPANet, Internet and the World Wide Web.
CSAIL members (former and current) have launched more than 100 companies, including 3Com, Lotus Development Corporation, RSA Data Security, Akamai, iRobot, Meraki, ITA Software, and Vertica. The Lab is home to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), directed by Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the Web and a CSAIL member.
CSAIL research is focused on developing the architectures and infrastructures of tomorrow’s information technology, and on creating innovations that will yield long-term improvements in how people live and work. Lab members conduct research in almost all aspects of computer science, including artificial intelligence, the theory of computation, systems, machine learning, computer graphics, as well as exploring revolutionary new computational methods for advancing healthcare, manufacturing, energy and human productivity.
“At CSAIL, we believe that computation is the key to creating a successful future. Our members are focused on the future of computing, on making computers more capable and developing the science and capabilities of computing through advances in all aspects of computer science including the theory of computation, systems research and artificial intelligence," said Professor Daniela Rus, director of CSAIL. “We believe that through computation, we can make the world a more intelligent, innovative, interesting and better place to be.”
Key CSAIL initiatives currently underway include tackling the challenges of big data, developing new models for wireless and mobile systems, securing computers and the cloud against cyber attacks, rethinking the field of artificial intelligence, and developing the next generation of robots.
CSAIL makes its home in the Frank Gehry-designed Ray and Maria Stata Center for Computer, Information and Intelligence Sciences on the MIT campus. The Lab has over 100 senior research scientists and faculty members, over 40 postdoctoral fellows and associates, 350 graduate students and 50 undergraduate students working under MIT’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP). Noted roboticist Daniela Rus is the lab’s current director.
CSAIL has its roots in two MIT computing powerhouses: The Laboratory for Computer Science (LCS) and the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (AI Lab).
LCS was founded in 1963 as Project MAC (Multiple Access Computing or Machine-Aided Cognition), a project sponsored by the Department of Defense to develop a computer system accessible to a large number of people. The result was Multics, the world’s first time-shared computer system, which led to the development of the Unix operating system and laid the foundation for many of today’s basic design concepts for software systems.
The AI Lab was founded as the AI project in 1959. The Lab pioneered new methods for image-guided surgery and natural-language-based Web access, produced new generations of micro displays, made haptic interfaces a reality, and developed bacterial robots and behavior-based robots that are used for planetary exploration, military reconnaissance and in consumer devices.
As collaboration across the two labs increased, and with the construction of a major new building designed to house the information sciences at MIT, the two labs merged in 2003, to form the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. In 2014 CSAIL will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Project MAC and the 10th anniversary of CSAIL’s formation.