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The Jackson Institute for Global Affairs announced on Tuesday that it will establish the Schmidt Program on Artificial Intelligence, Emerging Technologies and National Power, fostering interdisciplinary AI and cyber-focused research and teaching.

The Schmidt Program is a new initiative of International Security Studies at Yale, brought about by a $15.3 million gift from the Schwab Charitable Fund — through the donation of Eric and Wendy Schmidt and per the recommendation of their foundation, Schmidt Futures. The program will serve as “a hub for scholars and practitioners” to work across disciplines on research and teaching about the potential implications of emerging artificial intelligence.

“It’s an interdisciplinary program that will give the policy students better exposure to some of the technical concepts, and in the reverse, it’ll help us interact with members of the STEM community across the University, and think about how to bring those students into the mix for some of the current courses that we’re offering at Jackson,” said Ted Wittenstein, executive director of ISS. “It’ll be an opportunity to collaborate and connect across the University, which I think makes all of us excited about the opportunities ahead.”

The program was born out of “tremendous interest” among Jackson Institute students to better understand the technical knowledge behind emerging threats to international security and conversations about how trends in cybersecurity and artificial intelligence are changing the nature of world affairs, Wittenstein said. He told the News that the institute’s current class offerings in these areas are already incredibly high in demand.

The program will invite technologists and practitioners to Yale as Schmidt Program senior fellows, as well as offer postdoctoral fellowships to Schmidt visiting scholars. Some of the program’s initial research areas will include cyberwarfare, AI governance and competition in U.S.-China relations. The program will also establish new course offerings in AI and technology, in addition to hosting symposia, workshops and conferences.

“The Schmidt Program will help us build even more bridges across the University, expanding the scope of our collaboration to the transformational threats and opportunities associated with artificial intelligence,” Jackson Institute Director Jim Levinsohn said. “AI is reshaping our world, and it’s critical that future leaders we’re training here at Jackson understand its many implications.”

The program is made possible by the significant endowment from Eric and Wendy Schmidt. 

Eric Schmidt was the former chief executive officer of Google from 2001-11 and served as its executive chairman from 2011-18. He is currently Google’s technical advisor. Wendy Schmidt is the president of the Schmidt Family Foundation, which holds over $1 billion in philanthropic assets. Together, they co-founded Schmidt Futures in 2017. 

The chief executive officer of Schmidt Futures, Eric Braverman ’97 LAW ’02, is a lecturer at the Yale School of Management and has been a member of the Jackson Advisory Board since 2019. 

“We are excited to establish The Schmidt Program,” Eric Schmidt wrote in an email to the News. “Understanding the transition to an AI driven world, and developing a guiding ethic for it, will require commitment and insight from many elements of society: scientists and strategists, statesmen and philosophers, clerics and CEOs. Yale University brings together the best and brightest in all of these fields, forming the interdisciplinary approach that understanding AI will require.”

Eric Schmidt has also co-authored four books, including three related to the field of technology. His most recent book, “The Age of AI: Our Human Future,” was co-authored by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Daniel Huttenlocher.

As part of the program, Wittenstein will be teaching a new yearlong course titled “Artificial Intelligence, Emerging Technologies, and National Power” along with other faculty from the University.

“There’s a wide range of concepts here that are changing the nature of international relations, and those who aspire to policy careers … need … a technical fluency to try to grapple with these challenges,” Wittenstein said. “I think at the Jackson Institute, we instinctively think about how AI interacts with global affairs, security issues and geopolitical tensions in the U.S.-China relationship, and while those are important, there are technical, legal, ethical dimensions of these technologies that we’re eager to explore and that our students are really interested in learning more about.”

Wittenstein currently teaches undergraduate, graduate and law courses on intelligence, cybersecurity and national security decision making. He previously held positions in the U.S. Department of Defense, Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of State.

Professor of history and ISS Director Arne Westad described Wittenstein as a “significant player” in developing plans for the program.

“We wanted [the Schmidt Program] to be in the forefront of what people are researching and thinking about with regard to [AI and emerging technology],” Westad told the News. “We also did that with a view to try to think about this in ways that don’t just benefit one country: this is not a program that is designed or set up simply to look at these things from a U.S. perspective. We need to look at this from a global perspective and figure out what kind of challenges there are in a global sense.”

Westad underscored the importance of interdisciplinary study when researching and teaching emerging technologies.

“I’m constantly reminded from where I sit that intellectually and philosophically much of what we are looking at here has a background and history, which can actually tell us something about where we are today and where we might be going,” Westad said. 

Westad further added that “people who study this historically” can play an important role in better understanding past challenges. He also stressed that it is “hugely important that social scientists and humanists understand more about the technological aspects of this.”

As part of the program, a new “AI symposium” with visiting experts will be held starting in spring 2022. The symposium will involve public talks and classroom visits that are open to the wider Yale community.

The program will also co-sponsor the 2022 Yale Cyber Leadership Forum, a partnership between the Jackson Institute and Yale Law School’s Center for Global Legal Challenges. The forum, directed by law professor Oona Hathaway LAW ’97, will invite attorneys, entrepreneurs, policymakers and academics to explore the national security implications of AI development.

“The Schmidt program will give us the resources we need to invest in scholarship and teaching on emerging technologies — including artificial intelligence and cyber,” Hathaway wrote in an email to the News. “Jackson is a particularly good home for this program, because it serves as a kind of cross-roads for the University, bringing together scholars and students from a range of fields, from Law to Political Science to Engineering to Computer Science to Data Sciences.”

Professor of computer science Joan Feigenbaum emphasized the significance of this program to the study of technology at Yale.

According to Feigenbaum, the “interplay” between AI and international relations — and more broadly between computer science and politics — has been increasingly important on the global stage.

“There is a great deal of student interest in the topic here at Yale, and the Schmidt program will provide resources and opportunities for the development of new courses and new interdisciplinary research projects,” Feigenbaum wrote in an email to the News.

Eric Schmidt echoed Feigenbaum’s sentiments and said that the upcoming opening of the Jackson School of Global Affairs inspired the “opportunity to design the curriculum for the 21st century rather than the 20th.” 

The Jackson School of Global Affairs, opening in fall 2022, will be the first new professional school at Yale in over 40 years.

“Encouraging greater research and studies around the impact of AI across all segments of society is one of the greatest investments we could make for our future,” Eric Schmidt wrote. “Wendy and I are confident that The Schmidt Program will foster innovation to uncover the complexities of AI technologies and how they will profoundly transform the way human beings experience the world.”

In March, Eric and Wendy Schmidt donated $150 million to the Broad Institute for advanced biology research using data science and artificial intelligence to battle diseases. On Tuesday, Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan pledged $500 million to Harvard to study natural and artificial intelligence.

MIRANDA JEYARETNAM
Miranda Jeyaretnam is the beat reporter covering the Jackson Institute of Global Affairs and developments at the National University of Singapore and Yale-NUS for the YDN's University desk. She was formerly the opinion editor for the Yale Daily News under the YDN Board of 2022 and wrote as a staff columnist for her opinion column 'Crossing the Aisle' in Spring 2020. From Singapore, she is a sophomore in Pierson College, majoring in English.