Prolific Haskell developer Edward Kmett has joined the MIRI team!
Edward is perhaps best known for popularizing the use of lenses for functional programming. Lenses are a tool that provides a compositional vocabulary for accessing parts of larger structures and describing what you want to do with those parts.
Beyond the lens library, Edward maintains a significant chunk of all libraries around the Haskell core libraries, covering everything from automatic differentiation (used heavily in deep learning, computer vision, and financial risk) to category theory (biased heavily towards organizing software) to graphics, SAT bindings, RCU schemes, tools for writing compilers, and more.
Initial support for Edward joining MIRI is coming in the form of funding from long-time MIRI donor Jaan Tallinn. Increased donor enthusiasm has put MIRI in a great position to take on more engineers in general, and to consider highly competitive salaries for top-of-their-field engineers like Edward who are interested in working with us.
At MIRI, Edward is splitting his time between helping us grow our research team and diving in on a line of research he’s been independently developing in the background for some time: building a new language and infrastructure to make it easier for people to write highly complex computer programs with known desirable properties. While we are big fans of his work, Edward’s research is independent of the directions we described in our 2018 Update, and we don’t consider it part of our core research focus.
We’re hugely excited to have Edward at MIRI. We expect to learn and gain a lot from our interactions, and we also hope that having Edward on the team will let him and other MIRI staff steal each other’s best problem-solving heuristics and converge on research directions over time.
As described in our recent update, our new lines of research are heavy on the mix of theoretical rigor and hands-on engineering that Edward and the functional programming community are well-known for:
In common between all our new approaches is a focus on using high-level theoretical abstractions to enable coherent reasoning about the systems we build. A concrete implication of this is that we write lots of our code in Haskell, and are often thinking about our code through the lens of type theory.
MIRI’s nonprofit mission is to ensure that smarter-than-human AI systems, once developed, have a positive impact on the world. And we want to actually succeed in that goal, not just go through the motions of working on the problem.
Our current model of the challenges involved says that the central sticking point for future engineers will likely be that the building blocks of AI just aren’t sufficiently transparent. We think that someone, somewhere, needs to develop some new foundations and deep theory/insights, above and beyond what’s likely to arise from refining or scaling up currently standard techniques.
We think that the skillset of functional programmers tends to be particularly well-suited to this kind of work, and we believe that our new research areas can absorb a large number of programmers and computer scientists. So we want this hiring announcement to double as a hiring pitch: consider joining our research effort!