As it prepares to launch the first cross-disciplinary institute for artificial intelligence (AI) at a liberal arts college, Colby today announced that Amanda Stent has been named the inaugural director of its Davis Institute for Artificial Intelligence. Stent, who most recently served as the natural language processing (NLP) architect at Bloomberg L.P. and led the company’s People and Language AI Team, will assume her role in October.
Stent is considered one of the leading authorities on NLP, the branch of artificial intelligence that provides computers with the ability to understand human text and spoken words. With an exceptional range of NLP experience at some of the country’s top companies, she has authored or co-authored more than 100 papers on natural language processing, regularly speaks or presents on the topic, and is co-inventor on more than 30 NLP-related patents. Her strong background in academia includes acting as co-principal investigator on a large National Science Foundation information technology research grant that graduated interdisciplinary students across psychology, linguistics, and computer science. Additionally, she was involved in the famous CALO (Cognitive Assistant that Learns and Organizes) project that directly led to a wide range of AI and NLP applications, most notably the virtual assistant Siri.
“Amanda is the ideal person to build and lead the Davis Institute for Artificial Intelligence,” said President David A. Greene. “She is in the midst of a distinguished career overseeing large, complex teams of scientists, developing new technologies, and addressing algorithmic bias in machine learning. But she is a teacher and researcher at heart. Our students, faculty, and visitors to the Davis Institute will benefit from the clarity of her thinking, the depth of her knowledge, and the generosity of her spirit. She will establish the Davis Institute as a global model for how liberal arts colleges can shape the future of AI for the common good.”
Colby announced earlier in the year that it had received a $30-million gift from the Davis family and trustee of its charitable foundation Andrew Davis ’85, LL.D. ’15, to establish the Davis Institute for Artificial Intelligence. The institute will provide new pathways for talented students and faculty to research, create, and apply AI and machine learning (ML) in a manner that is informed and driven by a broad liberal arts perspective.
“The mission of Colby’s Davis Institute for Artificial Intelligence is to use AI creatively, while also preparing future leaders to predict and understand its impact, so negative impacts are mitigated and positive impacts are reinforced, and that’s exactly aligned with where I want to be in my career right now,” commented Stent. “Being at Colby will give me the opportunity to work with students and faculty across disciplines to not only use AI to inform those disciplines but ensure that all of those disciplines inform AI.”
Stent added that she also feels very strongly about undergraduate education and that it must include some component of studying AI. “AI will continue to have broad and profound societal impact, which means that the whole of society should have a say in what we do with it. For that to happen, each of us needs to have a foundational understanding of the nature of this technology.”
Inimitable Combination of Corporate and Academic Experience
While at Bloomberg L.P., Stent was responsible for developing and overseeing the company’s strategy for using AI to understand and produce human language. This included product managing the engineering teams responsible for the NLP infrastructure that permitted the conversion of unstructured data (i.e. written and verbal content) into structured, actionable data quickly and at a consistently high level. For example, using AI to extract data from earnings calls or reports. She also developed new NLP-driven enterprise products and created and taught natural language processing courses for the company’s engineers and data scientists.
As principal research scientist and research director at Yahoo Labs, Stent managed a group of researchers who worked on various aspects of NLP as well as image and video processing. At AT&T Labs–Research she conducted pure and applied research on dialog systems, interactive data exploration, and assistive technology.
Before joining the private sector, Stent was a tenured associate professor of computer science at Stony Brook University, where she created an interdisciplinary computational linguistics graduate program and designed and taught new graduate courses in speech processing, natural language processing, and information retrieval. She also developed new undergraduate courses for the university, including a software engineering ethics class, and taught across the curriculum—from theory of computation to software engineering.
Stent is a member of the National Academy of Sciences’ working group on responsible computing research and co-author of The Princess at the Keyboard: Why Girls Should Become Computer Scientists. One of the research projects she plans to work on at Colby involves using computers and NLP to understand the scientific literature in different disciplines to help inform future scientific initiatives that can lead to new discoveries. She holds a Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Rochester and a B.A. in mathematics from Houghton College.
AI Across Disciplines
The Davis Institute for Artificial Intelligence will launch this fall with more than 20 courses and classes that have been retooled to include significant AI components. Extending across a wide range of departments, they will focus on everything from economic forecasting and linguistics to art and mathematics.
“Amanda brings a remarkable range of experiences in both academia and industry that make her exceptionally well-qualified to lead the Davis Institute,” said Margaret McFadden, provost and dean of faculty at Colby. “Our faculty colleagues are delighted to work with her on the project of integrating AI into the curriculum and their research programs, and their enthusiasm is clear from the number of AI-themed courses and projects that they have created for students this fall. Colby has a long and fruitful tradition of interdisciplinary collaboration, and I am confident that under Amanda’s leadership, the Davis Institute will enable faculty to work together in transformative and generative new ways.”
A key priority for Stent will involve working with departments in the hiring of new faculty experts in AI who will join a larger community of scholars at Colby currently using artificial intelligence in their research and teaching. She and the Institute will also support Colby faculty interested in exploring new ways to incorporate AI tools and methodologies into their teaching and research as well as design new courses to include meaningful learning opportunities with AI.
“While there’s certainly lots to do, I’m currently working on setting up a series of lectures and discussions with various leaders in the AI space, and I’m also thinking about incorporating AI into Colby’s Jan Plan term that will involve different areas, including art and the College’s wonderful museum,” said Stent. “On a parallel track, I hope to quickly create some fantastic undergraduate collaborative projects with faculty that we can showcase and use to begin to build a thriving and dynamic community that wants to learn about and speak critically, as well as creatively, to the development of AI.”
The Davis Institute will build upon existing partnerships and develop new relationships with leading organizations and institutions to facilitate significant faculty and student research using rich datasets with real-world consequences and to provide students with broad-ranging opportunities for internships. It will also create a summer program for visiting faculty and students to work on AI projects and to develop courses and research projects that can be shared at their home institutions. In these ways, the Davis Institute will become a national center for training faculty and students in the use of AI and the creation of new systems and capabilities.