March 17, 2021
Dear CRCS Community,
I write to you this afternoon with an update and some reflections about our work at CRCS, 18 months into my time at Harvard. When I became Faculty Director of the Center in August 2019, I shared my vision for an interdisciplinary center focused on projects of real world importance using computer science research methods in public health, conservation, equity and fairness. I described CRCS as a home of community and academic partnerships to support this work. We have made progress towards these goals in the time since, and look forward to continuing the work in the coming months.
When I last wrote, I certainly could not have envisioned what a year it would be. As this new focus for CRCS began to take shape, the global pandemic forced us to adjust to a new way of working and living. Thus began a new period of remote work, countless zoom meetings, and uncertainty about when we might see each other in person again. Our researchers and collaborators, scattered across time zones, had to learn how to move scholarship forward with new constraints and concerns.
Not only has this year brought a pandemic, which highlighted and deepened long standing inequities in our communities, and increased challenges for our most vulnerable neighbors, but there has been little time to mourn and grieve for those we have lost. In the United States, Anti-Asian violence and racism have been on the rise while police violence has been at the forefront of the news. We support communities rallying for racial justice at any time and especially following the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and others. It is our responsibility to make clear that racism has no place in our work and Black Lives Matter.
While vaccine distribution provides hope that life will go back to something resembling normal in the coming months, rollout is fraught with issues of inequity. The social conditions of 2021 reinforce the need for a focus on equity, fairness, and access to care. We acknowledge this historical moment, and want to restate our commitment to diversity and inclusion. It is our responsibility to center our most vulnerable communities in the work that we do and to engage with ethics during the planning, implementation, and reporting on our projects. Partnerships with domain experts and community organizations is crucial to our scholarship and we look forward to continuing to foster collaborative work.
Over the past year, CRCS welcomed talented postdoctoral fellows, summer students, and scholars who have been thinking carefully about how to leverage AI research methods to improve lives and solve problems. We are just beginning this work together. Over the coming months, we look forward to offering several kinds of virtual programs. The Spring semester will include the concluding speakers in our AI for Social Impact seminar series as well as an AI for Health Equity Panel and Rising Stars workshop series. Over the summer, we anticipate running several virtual workshops, with the hope of a combination of in person and virtual programming in the fall if it is safe to do so. We are thrilled to move into our new space on the second floor of the Science and Engineering Complex in Allston and will welcome visitors as soon as that is an option.
We have started to build relationships with area community based organizations and academic researchers in public health and conservation, and invite anyone who is interested to reach out to us via email to learn more. In the last year, we have supported the work of Try AI in their program offerings designed to increase diversity, build meaningful research connections, and explore possible applications of AI in society. Another exciting development is our partnership with Tech for Social Good, the undergraduate club providing consulting services to non-profit organizations during the academic year.
While it is a privilege to be able to think of positive developments of a global pandemic, I am encouraged to see that our community is growing, and Zoom events have allowed us to include an audience around the world in our seminar series. I’m also glad to see that there is increased enthusiasm and respect for public health practitioners, and hope this trend continues.
It continues to be an exciting challenge to work with the CRCS community as we expand and strengthen our partnerships within and beyond Harvard. I look forward to seeing you at events virtually and hopefully in person sometime soon.
Gordon McKay Professor of Computer Science
Director, Center for Research on Computation and Society (CRCS)
Director, “AI for Social Good”
Google Research India