University of Toronto startup could help Google's search engine recognize abstract objects

Google Inc. (GOOG) is known for scooping up promising startups, folding them into its vast internet services infrastructure.  This week the company announced that it was acquiring DNNresearch Inc., a one-year-old neural networks startup.

Neural networks -- artificial intelligence computing constructs that mimic animal brain neurons -- were first formulated in the 1940s, and were first investigated in the 1950s and 1960s on computing machines.  But the technology fell out of favor in the early years of the digital era.  It was not until the late 1980s that the technology became popular once more, thanks to the rediscovery of the backpropogation algorithm.

The latest development in neural networks over the last decade has been the creation of so-called "deep neural networks", which utilize unsupervised learning to optimize the execution of some desirable task.  Deep neural nets can be single- or multi-layer.

DNNresearch is a deep neural network startup founded by University of Toronto Computer Science Department Professor Geoffrey Hinton and two of his graduate students, Alex Krizhevsky and Ilya Sutskever.  The trio focused their unsupervised learning constructs on object recognition.

Google likely will look to put that technology to use in its image search.  Google has been working with various artificial intelligence tactics to try to recognize abstract elements in digital images as a human brain would.  It's even considered using quantum computers to identify objects.

DNNresearch's technology could also be applied to finding elements in audio files.

neural network applications
Deep neural networks can be used to recognize faces or hasty handwriting.
[Image Source: U of T]

An acquisition price was not announced.  However, Google did reveal that it was giving Professor Hinton a $600,000 USD gift to support his ongoing research at U of T.  The professor will now split his time between U of T, where he will continue his neural networking research, and at Google's headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., where he will work to creep the AI technology closer to the end user.

U of T President, Professor David Naylor, comments, "Geoffrey Hinton’s research is a magnificent example of disruptive innovation with roots in basic research.  The discoveries of brilliant researchers, guided freely by their expertise, curiosity, and intuition, lead eventually to practical applications no one could have imagined, much less requisitioned.  I extend my congratulations to Professor Hinton for this latest achievement."

Professor Hinton's two graduate students who cofounded the startup will be going to work full time at Google.

Source: University of Toronto

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