‘Nobel prize of computing’ reveals three winning fathers of AI revolution

27 Mar 2019

Image: © unknownshree/Stock.adobe.com

The winners of the 2018 Turing Award have been named as Yoshua Bengio, Geoffrey Hinton and Yann LeCun.

Some of the greatest minds in computer science have seen their work recognised as hugely influential in the development of artificial intelligence (AI) by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM).

Each year, ACM organises the Turing Award – often referred to as the ‘Nobel prize for computing’ – and it has today (27 March) named the 2018 recipients. Yoshua Bengio, Geoffrey Hinton and Yann LeCun will share the $1m prize.

In describing their importance, ACM said that while AI as a concept and technology dated back to the 1980s, the trio were among a small group who remained committed to the development of deep learning when many of their peers doubted its feasibility, during the so-called ‘AI winter’.

“Though their efforts to rekindle the AI community’s interest in neural networks were initially met with scepticism, their ideas recently resulted in major technological advances, and their methodology is now the dominant paradigm in the field,” the organisation said in its announcement.

Working independently and together, Hinton, LeCun and Bengio developed conceptual foundations for the field and demonstrated the practical advantages of deep neural networks which have since led to breakthroughs in fields such as computer vision, speech recognition, natural language processing and robotics.

Headshots of Yoshua Bengio, Geoffrey Hinton, and Yann LeCun.

From left: Yoshua Bengio, Geoffrey Hinton and Yann LeCun. Images: ACM

‘These technologies are used by billions of people’

Speaking with The Verge, LeCun reminisced about how the defining moment for neural networks came in 2012 with a project called ImageNet, which was led by Hinton. Using neural networks, the team was able to far surpass all previous object recognition challenges by as much as 40pc.

“The difference there was so great that a lot of people, you could see a big switch in their head going ‘clunk’,” LeCun said. “Now they were convinced.”

Two of the three awardees have established themselves as leading figures in AI development at two of the biggest tech superpowers. LeCun is currently the vice-president and chief AI scientist for Facebook, while Hinton is a vice-president and an engineering fellow at Google. Meanwhile, Bengio is a professor at the University of Montreal and scientific director at Mila, Quebec’s AI institute.

“The growth of and interest in AI is due, in no small part, to the recent advances in deep learning for which Bengio, Hinton and LeCun laid the foundation,” said ACM president Cherri M Pancake.

“These technologies are used by billions of people. Anyone who has a smartphone in their pocket can tangibly experience advances in natural language processing and computer vision that were not possible just 10 years ago.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic