On February 7th, the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) elected Regina Barzilay, School of Engineering Distinguished Professor for AI and Health in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, principal investigator at the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, and faculty lead for the MIT Abdul Latif Jameel Clinic for Machine Learning in Health (Jameel Clinic), for machine learning models that understand structures in text, molecules, and medical images. The NAE awards membership to engineers who are “pioneering new and developing fields of technology, making major advancements in traditional fields of engineering, or developing/implementing innovative approaches to engineering education."
Her election caps off a remarkable decade of work. After being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014, Barzilay shifted much of her efforts toward cancer research. Three years later, she developed a machine learning model that could have diagnosed her cancer earlier. In 2018, she helped launch the Jameel Clinic, which has since initiated machine learning efforts on COVID-19, different forms of cancer, Parkinson’s, and other diseases.
Barzilay’s oncology research includes creating algorithms for early breast cancer diagnosis and risk assessment as well as personalizing screening with artificial intelligence. Most recently, she helped develop “Sybil,” an artificial intelligence model that can detect future lung cancer risk. The tool analyzes low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) scans without the assistance of a radiologist, assessing patients’ chances of developing the cancer within the next six years. Additionally, Regina has made foundational contributions to natural language processing and machine learning, including text-to-text generation for sentence-level paraphrasing, a technique to produce summaries of original texts without needing their full semantic interpretations, and a decipherment algorithm with potential to automatically translate lost languages.
Since joining MIT faculty in 2003, Barzilay has earned the National Science Foundation Career award, the MIT Technology Review TR35 Award, MIT’s Jamieson Award for excellence in teaching, and the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence’s (AAAI) $1 million Squirrel AI Award for Artificial Intelligence for the Benefit of Humanity. Other honors include the MacArthur Fellowship, an AAAI fellowship, the Microsoft Faculty Fellowship, and Best Paper awards at the NAACL and ACL.