MIT Intelligence Quest initiative renamed MIT Quest for Intelligence

Provost Schmidt: change in response to concerns about negative associations around IQ

Provost Martin Schmidt PhD ’88 announced in an email to the MIT community June 11 that the MIT Intelligence Quest was renamed to the MIT Quest for Intelligence in light of concerns about “negative historical and racial associations around the acronym IQ.” The Quest, as it is now abbreviated, will be headed by EECS Professor Antonio Torralba as its inaugural director.

The Quest, launched in March as the MIT Intelligence Quest (abbreviated MIT IQ), is an institute-wide initiative that seeks to “discover the foundations of human intelligence,” according to its website.

Anantha Chandrakasan, dean of the MIT School of Engineering, and Michael Sipser, dean of the MIT School of Science, presented the original proposal for the initiative at the February faculty meeting.

During the meeting, CMS/W Professor Kenneth Manning expressed concern over “IQ” as part of the initiative’s name, commenting on the association of “IQ” with “intelligence quotient,” according to the minutes. History Professor Anne McCants concurred that a perceived association of “IQ” with “intelligence quotient” would be likely.

Manning has continuously “taught the perils and negative ramifications of shoddy scholarship surrounding IQ and its eugenic uses, especially its espousal of racial inferiority,” he explained in an article in the March/April edition of the MIT Faculty Newsletter.

As a graduate student, Manning wrote, he had organized protests against the use of intelligence quotient tests to argue the inferiority of blacks.

Manning was also concerned that the naming revealed a deeper issue of a lack of diversity of faculty input and highlighted the need to “ground [the initiative] in responsible social values.”

At the end of his statement, Manning wrote that Schmidt, Chair of the Faculty Susan Silbey, and an unnamed representative from the Office of the Dean of Engineering “responded swiftly” to concerns raised at the faculty meeting and were considering name alternatives.

Chandrakasan pointed to the faculty meeting as kickstarting the name change process. The Quest developers met with faculty, including the Faculty Policy Committee, to discuss options.

The original name “Intelligence Quest” was decided after many focus groups and surveys of Institute leaders, Chandrakasan wrote. They hoped that the word “Quest” would “capture the tremendous scale and spirit of MIT’s ambitions in intelligence research,” and there was consensus that it should be retained while avoiding associations with “IQ.”  

The Quest’s developers and faculty considered changing only the “IQ” acronym, but were concerned that “Intelligence Quest” would still be shortened to IQ for convenience.

Manning wrote in an email to The Tech that he chose to not engage in the renaming in order to “to maintain an objective, impartial perspective” regarding the result.

Ultimately, “Quest for Intelligence” was chosen, a name that Chandrakasan believes captures the “tremendously exciting research opportunities ahead” and does not “make anyone feel alienated or overlooked.”

There have been “minimal costs” to replace branded material, including documents and websites, according to Chandrakasan, and there are no legal concerns.

Chandrakasan described reactions to the new name as “uniformly positive.”

Torralba wrote in an email to The Tech that he was not involved with The Quest until after the name change, but is glad about how quickly the administration reacted and approves of the new name.

Manning approves of the new name as well, emphasizing that “a simple reversal of two words can change, even reverse, meaning” and believes that continuous use of the new name will make the original problem “fade away.” He praised the Institute’s correction as a “responsible and courageous move, to be sure.”