Google acquires U of T neural networks company

Sara Franca

University Professor Geoffrey Hinton and two of his graduate students from the Department of Computer Science have sold their startup company to Google Inc.

Google acquired the company, incorporated by Alex Krizhevsky, Ilya Sutskever and Hinton in 2012, for its research on deep neural networks. Also known as “deep learning” for computers, this research involves helping machines understand context.

Hinton is world-renowned for his work with machine learning and artificial intelligence. His neural networks research has profound implications for areas such as speech recognition, computer vision and language understanding.

“Geoffrey Hinton’s research is a magnificent example of disruptive innovation with roots in basic research,” said U of T’s president, Professor David Naylor.“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.”

Krizhevsky and Sutskever, who will both be moving to Google, developed a system that dramatically improved the state of the art in object recognition.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for Geoff, and a great opportunity for the department,” said Computer Science Chair Sven Dickinson. “In recent years, we have been expanding our industrial relations, and this acquisition represents a wonderful opportunity to strengthen our existing ties with Google, one of the world’s most innovative IT companies.”

The Google deal will support Hinton’s graduate students housed in the department’s machine learning group, while protecting their research autonomy under academic freedom. It will also allow Hinton himself to divide his time between his university research and his work at Google.

“I am extremely excited about this fantastic opportunity to keep my research here in Toronto and, at the same time, help Google apply new developments in deep learning to make systems that help people,” said Hinton.

Hinton will spend time at Google’s Toronto office and several months of the year at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, CA.

This announcement comes on the heels of a $600,000 gift Google awarded Professor Hinton’s research group to support further work in the area of neural networks.

The Innovations and Partnerships Office at U of T  worked in concert with the startup to complete the transaction with Google. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Renowned for his teaching as well as his world-leading research, Hinton taught one of the university’s inaugural Coursera courses last fall and is currently teaching a graduate course. He is also co-teaching a course for undergraduate students based on the course he taught for Coursera which follows the “inverted classroom” model, where students watch videos and professors use the lecture period for discussions with students.