The UPC confers an honorary doctoral degree on engineer and MIT researcher Antonio Torralba


The rector Daniel Crespo and Antonio Torralba, after Torralba was conferred an honorary doctoral degree

International recognition
Torralba has received several awards, such as a National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER award in 2008, the 2010 J. K. Aggarwal Prize from the International Association for Pattern Recognition (IAPR), the Frank Quick Faculty Research Innovation Fellowship and the Louis D. Smullin ('39) Award for Teaching Excellence—both in 2017—and an Amazon Research Award in 2016.

The proposal to confer an honorary doctoral degree on Torralba has been supported by Anantha P. Chandrakasan, dean of the MIT School of Engineering; David Cox, IBM director of the MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab; Alexei Efros, a professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences at the University of California, Berkeley; and Núria Oliver, chief data scientist at Data-Pop Alliance.


Antonio Torralba during his acceptance speech for the honorary doctoral degree from the UPC


Auditorium of the Vèrtex building, on the North Diagonal Campus


Investiture ceremony of Antonio Torralba as an honorary doctor of the UPC

Engineer Antonio Torralba is a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA, and head of the Artificial Intelligence and Decision-Making (AI+D) Faculty at the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. On 11 March, he has been awarded an honorary doctoral degree by the UPC at an event that has been broadcasted live on YouTube. Torralba is a graduate from the Barcelona School of Telecommunications Engineering (ETSETB). He is a pioneer in the research on computer vision and the application of artificial intelligence in this field.

Mar 11, 2022

The Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya · BarcelonaTech (UPC) has conferred an honorary doctoral degree on engineer Antonio Torralba at a ceremony on Friday 11 March at 11.30 a.m. The event, held in the Auditorium of the Vèrtex building on the North Diagonal Campus, in Barcelona, has been  broadcasted live on the UPC’s YouTube channel.

Approved by the UPC’s Governing Council on 8 October, the proposal to confer an honorary doctoral degree on Torralba was sponsored by the Barcelona School of Telecommunications Engineering (ETSETB), within the framework of the 50th anniversary of the School and the University, and was supported by the Interdisciplinary Higher Education Centre (CFIS). Professor Ferran Marqués, a researcher at the UPC’s Department of Signal Theory and Communications and former director of the ETSETB, will be the sponsor of the ceremony.

Antonio Torralba (Madrid, 1971) graduated in Telecommunications Engineering from the ETSETB in 1994 and earned a doctoral degree from the Institut National Polytechnique de Grenoble in 2000. From 2000 to 2007 he worked at the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and at the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA, first as a postdoctoral associate and later as a research scientist. Since 2007 he has been a professor at MIT’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and a full professor since 2017.

In 2017 he was named MIT director of the MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab and started co-leading it with the IBM director. The project involves a 240-million-dollar investment by IBM over 10 years to conduct research on artificial intelligence, with 90 millions to support MIT groups. In 2018, Torralba was named the inaugural director of the MIT Quest for Intelligence, a cross-cutting initiative at MIT to discover the foundations of human intelligence and drive the development of technological tools that can positively influence virtually every aspect of society.

In 2020 he was appointed head of the Artificial Intelligence and Decision-Making (AI+D) Faculty, a new unit within MIT’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science that, based on the Department’s roots in telecommunications engineering and computer science, aims to combine and promote machine learning, artificial intelligence and decision making.

Pioneer in computer vision
Professor Torralba has been recognised as a pioneer in laying the foundations of semantic understanding of scenes. His contributions to the study of images from a holistic perspective have supported the development of context-based image recognition systems, which has led to improved interpretation performance. His work “Modeling the shape of the scene: A holistic representation of the spatial envelope” (International Journal of Computer Vision, 2001) has become a cornerstone in computer vision, in which it has attracted more than 6,500 citations, and is essential reading in most related courses around the world.

Torralba works on creating computer vision tools from a high understanding of human vision or perception. He performs psychophysical experiments that allow him to propose and validate new algorithms and computer vision systems. He has published in specialised journals and has become an outstanding figure in the field worldwide. His works “Contextual guidance of eye movements and attention in real-world scenes: The role of global features in object search” (Psychological Review, 2006) and “Building the gist of a scene: The role of global image features in recognition” (Progress in Brain Research, 2006) have attracted more than 1,700 and 1,300 citations respectively from scientists around the world.

An outstanding figure in visual AI
MIT researcher Torralba has always worked with a special focus on large databases to train smart systems properly. Torralba’s view of the importance of having large realistic databases to train systems properly put him in a privileged position when deep learning systems emerged. Recognised as a leading researcher in computer vision, human perception and machine learning, Torralba is considered an outstanding figure worldwide in visual AI and in extrapolating the tools that are developed in this field to other AI areas.

His works in these fields include “Learning deep features for scene recognition using places database” (Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems, 2014) and “Skip-thought vectors” (Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems, 2015), with more than 2,000 and 1,300 citations respectively.

Torralba has a multi-faceted relationship with the UPC. In addition to being an ETSETB graduate, he has supervised several bachelor’s and master’s thesis by UPC students and has invited them to research stays at the MIT group that he leads. He has also helped UPC students get into other MIT research groups, acting as an ambassador for the UPC within MIT.