AOL gift launches Connected Experiences Lab

Tim Armstrong
Jeff Weiner/Cornell Tech
Tim Armstrong, CEO of AOL, speaks at the Nov. 12 announcement of AOL's gift to Cornell for the Connected Experiences Laboratory.

NEW YORK — AOL, the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute at Cornell Tech and New York City officials have announced the creation of the Connected Experiences Laboratory, or ConnX, aimed at exploring new technologies at the forefront of the digital age.

Announced Nov. 12, an AOL gift will fund a four-year partnership between New York City-based AOL and Cornell Tech. The collaboration will extend to the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, Cornell’s partner in the Jacobs Institute, with part of the gift supporting activities at the Technion in coordination with AOL Israel.

The gift will allow researchers at Cornell Tech and the Technion to study human-computer interaction, computer vision, machine learning, natural language processing and social computing across multiple disciplines. Researchers will use these tools to apply new insights in such areas as communication, food, wellness, education, safety, information and entertainment.

The partnership with AOL will give Cornell Tech and Technion researchers access to resources, engineering and product knowledge not readily available in academic settings, said Dan Huttenlocher, dean of Cornell Tech. “We see this not just as a one-way gift, but a beginning of a collaboration that will set new standards in how industry and academia work together to make the world better and advance the New York tech scene,” Huttenlocher said.

Part of the AOL gift will fund a fellowship program to support graduate students at both Cornell Tech and the Technion, and also will support research activities of faculty in each location, half of whom will be women.

“Diversity should be top of mind for every tech organization, academic or otherwise,” said Mor Naaman, associate professor at the Jacobs Institute and co-founder of ConnX. “We are designing new technologies that would be used by a population that is 50 percent female. It is only appropriate that the research team reflects that ratio.”

The Cornell Tech lab will include full-time engineers and designers, faculty, Ph.D. students and postdoctoral researchers. “To build meaningful technologies and improve the likelihood of impact, we need people in-house that can design and build systems, moving early research prototypes into the real world,” said Deborah Estrin, a faculty member at Cornell Tech and co-founder of ConnX. “This is a highly unusual and unique approach, and one that will have tremendous and quickly realized impacts on the industry at large.”

“We are thrilled to partner with the Jacobs Institute, Cornell Tech and the Technion, home to some of the world’s best researchers and innovators,” said Bill Pence, AOL’s chief technology officer. “Cornell Tech’s grounded, human-centered approach to developing cutting-edge technologies and systems aligns perfectly with the heart of AOL’s strategy, where Culture Meets Code. Through the formation of the Connected Experiences Lab, we want to explore the future of technologies that provide essential services and content to users around the world, and develop a roadmap to align with their practices, needs and motivations.”

The faculty in the new ConnX lab will include Shiri Azenkot and Serge Belongie at Cornell Tech and Anat Rafaeli, Nir Ailon and Roi Reichart at the Technion.

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