VARIO delegation with Minister of Innovation Philippe Muyters in Carnegie Mellon and MIT

VARIO bezoek aan Carnegie Mellon en MIT in het kader van het AI-advies

Visit to Carnegie Mellon University and MIT in the context of a Flemish plan for Artificial intelligence

From the 1st to the 4th of October a delegation of VARIO, led by chairman Lieven Danneels and accompanied by the Flemish minister of Innovation Philippe Muyters and delegates from Flanders Investment and Trade (FIT) and the Flemish Institute for Biotech (VIB), visited two of the best American universities. The visit to Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in Pittsburgh and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston was part of a fact finding-mission of VARIO for the advisory trajectory on artificial intelligence (AI). CMU and MIT are number 1 and 2 regarding graduate-education in AI in the US. Dr. Ajit Shetty, former CEO of Janssen Pharmaceutica, invited the delegation in his capacity as Trustee of CMU, in order to make us acquainted with best practices in the fields of education and research.


The president of CMU, dr. Farnam Jahanian, kicked off several very interesting and interactive high-level sessions on Monday. Deans, directors of top notch departments and renowned researchers provided the delegation insights into the state of the art of these technologies in general, and in particular what concerns the application domains with special relevance for Flanders such as autonomous mobility, smart cities, computational biology (applications in pharma and biotech), robotics etc. An interactive panel, in which one of the most renowned experts in machine learning participated, has provided insights in the implications for the labour market and education in the future. One thing is clear, AI is a key technology for the future.

On Tuesday, the delegation visited the National Robotics Engineering Centre at CMU, where ground-breaking work has been done on the development of autonomous cars. Afterwards the delegation visited an accelerator program for promising start-ups. Both visits made clear how CMU is the engine of Pittsburgh’s industrial transformation: from the old steel industry to a thriving ecosystem of tech companies, where big names such as Google and Facebook like to establish themselves.

The presence of Mark Nolan, Associate Vice President for Institutional Partnerships, Philip Lehman, Associate Dean of the School of Computer Science and Gary Fedder, Vice Provost for Research, gave the opportunity to explore a future framework for strong relationships between CMU and relevant actors in Flanders


Thanks to the strong support of FIT and AGORIA’s good relationships with MIT (within the framework of the Industry Liaison Program), a visit to the equally renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) could be scheduled. Due to agenda reasons of various delegation members, a slimmed-down delegation travelled on to Boston.

On Tuesday evening, the delegation joined a networking event for Flemish in Boston at the Museum of Fine Arts, this in the context of the creation of a Centre for Netherlandish Art.

The next day, several high-level speakers were scheduled. The Belgians Pattie Maes, professor specialising in Fluid Interfaces at the MIT Media Lab, and Julien de Wit, assistant professor at MIT and co-discoverer of the TRAPPIST-1 exoplanet set, explained how they use machine learning techniques for their research. As experienced experts they were also well placed to reflect on the differences between excellent Flemish and American research and educational institutes. The delegation was given the opportunity to exchange ideas on this subject.

Dr. Sophie Vandebroek, the Belgian VP Emerging Technology Partnerships of IBM Research, subsequently gave several very impressive examples of new AI technology that will thoroughly transform daily life. IBM and MIT have an intensive collaboration on AI in the framework of the IBM Watson AI Lab.

The contribution of American MIT professors was very much appreciated as well. Professor Alex ‘Sandy’ Pentland, according to Forbes 1 of the 7 most influential data scientists in the world, went deeper into the data architecture that governments should support to facilitate the AI revolution.

On the last day of the foreign mission, the delegation attended the opening ceremony of the brand-new MIT.nano-research facility. In various presentations, the relevance of AI (on a nano scale) for a multitude of application domains once again proved very clear.