Martial Hebert, a leading researcher in computer vision and robotics, has been named dean of Carnegie Mellon University’s world-renowned School of Computer Science (SCS), effective August 15.
Hebert, director of the Robotics Institute in SCS since 2014, will lead a school with more than 270 faculty members and approximately 2,300 students. He has been a CMU faculty member for the last 35 years.
“Throughout his career, Martial Hebert has been an extraordinary and collaborative scholar who has elevated the global importance and prominence of robotics and computer science research,” said CMU Provost James H. Garrett Jr. “We are so fortunate that he will now lead our School of Computer Science as dean, and we are confident that he will succeed in advancing the school’s world-renowned academic, research and entrepreneurial mission.”
Carnegie Mellon has long shaped the discipline of computer science, establishing the pioneering Computer Science Department in 1965 and founding the nation’s first computer science college more than 30 years ago. It is consistently ranked number one by U.S. News & World Report, and recently added the number one ranking in artificial intelligence (AI). In 2018, SCS introduced the first undergraduate major in AI. From the beginnings of computer science more than six decades ago, Carnegie Mellon has been known for defining the broadest possible view of the field with a focus on the greatest impact.
Leading the way
SCS and the university have led work in developing innovative software and computational techniques by bringing together leaders in computation with those in other disciplines. This has led to new fields of exploration at the intersection of computer science with biology, neuroscience, linguistics, psychology and engineering. The university has taken a leadership role in its work on cybersecurity, on the implications of computation for society and on the future of work itself.
SCS spans seven departments, including the Computer Science Department, as well as areas devoted to machine learning, language technologies, human-computer interaction, computational biology, software research and robotics. It shares a multitude of joint faculty appointments and collaborations across the university, notably establishing CMU AI, a campus-wide initiative to fulfill the promise of AI across disciplines. SCS researchers have established a number of spinoff companies, such as Duolingo, Petuum, Wombat Security Technologies, Near Earth Autonomy and Astrobotic.
SCS faculty and students have led the development of self-driving cars (where Hebert was a key researcher), invented computerized tutors that teach students algebra and conceived an AI program that strategically outplayed professional poker players. Approximately 50% of the school’s computer science undergraduate students are female – more than double the national average. It’s the highest percentage among America’s top-ranked computer science schools.
The university boasts 13 winners of the ACM A.M. Turing Award – considered the Nobel Prize of computer science — among its alumni and faculty. These include Alan Perlis, the first Turing Award winner; and Allen Newell and Herbert Simon, two of the founders of AI in the 1950s.
“The School of Computer Science has never been better positioned to have a real-world impact than it is now,” Hebert said. “As an academic institution, SCS’s success relies ultimately on its students, and we are privileged to have the best ones on the planet. The breadth of our research is simply tremendous, ranging from foundational principles to transformational applications.”
“I treasure the Robotics Institute — I’ve spent my entire career there — but I can’t wait to engage with all of the intellectual ideas that encompass SCS as a whole,” Hebert added. “I’m excited about the opportunities for cross-collaboration across the full university.”
A native of France, Hebert earned a doctorate in computer science at the University of Paris. He joined the Robotics Institute in 1984, just five years after it was founded, and was named a full professor in 1999. The Robotics Institute is the world’s largest robotics education and research institution. Its operating budget has increased to an all-time high, projected at nearly $90 million, since Hebert became director.
Inside Carnegie Mellon’s search
A 20-member, campus-wide search committee co-chaired by Lorrie Cranor, director of CMU’s CyLab Security and Privacy Institute, and Roni Rosenfeld, head of SCS’s Machine Learning Department, sought input from faculty, staff and students on the new dean. With the assistance of the executive search firm Isaacson Miller, they met with highly qualified candidates with diverse backgrounds from across the country.
“We spent a lot of time as a committee listening to what the campus community wanted in a dean. We heard the importance of finding a visionary leader with outstanding administrative and fundraising skills and excellent collaborative instincts — someone who is committed to education and students, as well as to diversity, equity and inclusion,” Cranor said. “We found the ideal candidate — Martial — right here at CMU. We have seen that he has all the attributes we’ve been looking for. We’re confident he will be a great dean.”
Rebecca W. Doerge, the Glen de Vries Dean of CMU’s Mellon College of Science and member of the search committee, commended Hebert’s passion and dedication to connecting computer science to all other disciplines across campus as an important factor in the university choosing him to help shape the academics and direction of SCS.
“Martial Hebert possesses the essential qualities needed to build on the tremendous reputation achieved by the school in computer science,” Doerge said. “Through his unwavering dedication and forward-thinking approach to interdisciplinary science and education, he will create exciting opportunities for students and researchers across the university, providing them with the foundation to make impactful discoveries in advanced technologies and become leaders in emerging fields.”
Director of Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute
Upon joining the CMU faculty, Hebert became part of the Autonomous Land Vehicles program, a precursor of today’s research on self-driving vehicles. He performed research on interpreting 3D data from range sensors for obstacle detection, environment modeling and object recognition. For the next three decades, he led major research programs in autonomous systems, including ground and air vehicles, with contributions in the areas of perception for environment understanding and human interaction.
His research interests center on computer vision. He has led research on fundamental components, such as scene understanding, object recognition and applying machine learning to computer vision, as well as applications, which include systems that enable older adults and people with disabilities to live more independently. To meet the needs of a rapidly expanding computer vision industry, he created the nation’s first master’s degree program in computer vision.
As director of the Robotics Institute, Hebert has led an institution with more than 800 community members, including faculty, students and staff. Now 40 years old, the institute launched the first Ph.D. program in robotics in 1990. It has spawned dozens of spinoffs and played a key role in convincing a growing number of companies, such as Google, Facebook and Caterpillar, to establish Pittsburgh offices. It also includes the National Robotics Engineering Center, which performs applied research and prototyping services for government and corporate partners.
Hebert was appointed to a five-year term as dean. He succeeds Andrew Moore, who stepped down as dean at the end of 2018 to lead Google Cloud AI. Tom Mitchell, Founders University Professor, has served as the interim dean and will return to teaching and his pioneering work in machine learning.
“I am grateful for Professor Mitchell’s willingness to serve as interim dean for the past 10 months,” said Garrett. “His leadership during this time of transition has been invaluable, allowing the School of Computer Science to continue its momentum heading into the new academic year. I also wish to thank the search committee, particularly Professor Cranor and Professor Rosenfeld, for their dedication and diligence during the entire process.”
Hebert will continue to direct the Robotics Institute until an interim director is named.