President Obama, British Prime Minister Launch ‘Cambridge Vs. Cambridge’

The 'hackathon' will pit MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory against England's University of Cambridge.

images via Associated Press

images via Associated Press

In a battle of intellect and technology with some of the smartest people in England, President Barack Obama is putting his faith behind students at MIT.

On Friday, following meetings in Washington, D.C., with British Prime Minister David Cameron, the president announced that MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, or CSAIL, will go head-to-head with researchers from the prestigious University of Cambridge during a multi-day “hackathon” and cyber security contest.

“This competition is intended to be the first of many international university cyber security competitions. The aim is to enhance cyber security research at the highest academic level within both countries to bolster our cyber defenses,” according to a statement from the White House.

The competition is part of the two allied nations’ efforts to team up and improve the cyber security infrastructure worldwide, and better respond to cyber incidents and threats.

“Every day foreign governments, criminals, and hackers are attempting to probe, intrude into, and attack government and private sector systems in both of our countries. President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron have both made clear that domestic cyber security requires cooperation between governments and the private sector,” according to the press release from the White House.

The announcement comes on the heels of reports that North Korea was to blame for hacking into Sony Pictures’ email accounts and divulging sensitive information about the company’s finances, as well as personal exchanges between top executives.

The meetings between Cameron and Obama also follow the takeover of the U.S. Central Command’s Twitter and YouTube profiles earlier this week. According to WIRED, extremists sympathetic to the terrorist group ISIS claimed responsibility for the hack.

The president also announced this week plans to take a “comprehensive approach” to enhancing consumers’ security, battling identity theft, and improving privacy online and in the classroom, according to a White House fact sheet sent out on January 12.

As for the friendly competition that will pit MIT and the University of Cambridge against each other, students participating in the challenge “will develop technologies and platforms focused on ongoing challenges” of international cyber attacks.

“They will have to demonstrate a variety of technical, interpersonal, and business skills beyond pure computer science and engineering, such as pitching to venture capitalists and industry, considering policy implications of key decisions, and speaking to the press in a real-world simulation,” according to MIT News, the school’s press office.

Howard Shrobe, CSAIL’s lead research scientist, said he is looking forward to collaborating internationally to work on ways to prevent cyber security breaches. “We are excited to partner with the University of Cambridge on this academic initiative with our students, and hope that this will be the first of many events aimed at bringing together these two institutions,” he said.

Details about when the competition will begin were not immediately available, but it will most likely start in October, and last for a period of two-to-three days.