There are many machine learning developers in the world. But there is only one accompanied by both Andrew Ng and Yoshua Bengioinvented a new kind of artificial neural networkcontributed to or led research at Google Brain, OpenAI, and Apple, and still has fewer than 40 candles to blow out on their birthday cake.
And Apple just let him walk out the door and straight to Google’s offices, where he will soon be working for the DeepMind research team.
His name is Ian Goodfellow. And letting him walk away from your California-based elite, ultra-progressive Silicon Valley tech company, because… he disagrees with your work demands in the office is a scenario so stupid I can’t believe GPT-3 didn’t come up with it.
To put this into a sports analogy, this is like having Tom Brady or Michael Jordan leave your team because of a disagreement between them and the team owner about how to fold towels.
Let Goodfellow and his team work wherever they want. If they think they can code a better machine learning model of the International Space Station, you should probably look into building a rocket.
Let’s take a look back and put things in perspective. I feel our C-suite readers are reflexively preparing a “good company” or “everyone is a rock star in our organization” speech in their minds in response to this op-ed.
I don’t think anyone deserves special treatment at Apple. Or any other company for that matter.
But Ian Goodfellow’s contributions in the field of machine learning cannot be overstated. Office hours are kind of silly to lose a talented developer, and it’s even more ridiculous to let your ML director walk because you think a personal smile is important.
The loss of Goodfellow is a huge blow to Apple for two reasons:
- His talent cannot be easily replaced
- His work at DeepMind could put him in direct competition with Apple
Goodfellow’s greatest claim to scientific fame is that he was part of the team that created the generative hostile network (GAN).
A GAN is a neural network that learns how to create content by fooling itself and ultimately people.
Anytime you hear about an AI that can generate text, write poetry, create images, or produce its own original music, you’re almost certainly hearing about a GAN.
The nice thing about GANs is that they work by putting two neural networks against each other. Without GANs, people would have to refine each generative iteration — like trying to rough sand with fine paper.
But a GAN has one network that creates and another that is discriminatory. The second network is essentially a bouncer that blocks a lot of useless output before it even has a chance to manifest itself.
Artificial General Intelligence (AGI)
After Goodfellow et al. invented the GAN, he continued his work at Google Brain, where he helped solve computer vision and ML security problems. And from there, he toured OpenAI, the Elon Musk and Microsoft-funded AGI think tank where some of the world’s brightest minds try to figure out how to invent and master a human level. artificial intelligence†
This is important to note because there is really only one other company on the planet that has invested as deeply in AGI and is full of renowned talent as OpenAI, and that is DeepMind.
When Ian Goodfellow became the director of machine learning at Apple, many of us in tech journalism were surprised. It seemed like a huge loss for the Google Brain team, but it made sense for Goodfellow (it seemed like a well-deserved promotion) and, based on what we know about Apple’s AI Programsdidn’t seem like something that would come back to bite Google in the ass.
Fast-forward to today, and Google looks like the smartest player on the board as it welcomes Goodfellow back to the fold.
DeepMind is basically the Google version of OpenAI. Where OpenAI seems to be a bit more focused on making sure that an AGI doesn’t rebel against us, DeepMind is more fixated on creating a generalist AI that can do everything a human can do without having to be retrained to acquire new skills.
This is something that could come back to bite Apple in the ass.
Siri, Siri, why are you Siri?
About five years ago, you had to summon Siri if you wanted to joke about virtual assistants or anthropomorphic AI. That’s the only AI with the name that all my readers knew in 2017.
Now I can better use Alexa for name recognition. But no one has forgotten Siri. At least not yet.
DeepMind is heading for something big with its new GATO AI system† No, I don’t think it’s on its way to AGI with GATO (or really anything else it’s currently doing, but that’s a debate for another article†
But I do think that GATO can be very marketable if DeepMind can solve the problem of large-scale models and prejudice†
Imagine Siri, but a version of Siri that could do a thousand different tasks for you. Right now, our virtual assistants essentially do web searches and open apps for us. It may seem like Siri can do hundreds of different things, but telling you what time it is, how many messages you have, and what the capital of Nebraska is are all pretty much the same job.
I’m talking about a version of Siri that can control a robot capable of doing your dishes while identifying areas of high weeds in your front yard, while also generating a completely original cartoon for your kids to watch based on of your specific directions, and so on.
Currently, it would be an impressive feat for a team of AI developers to create a system that could do all that in a simulated environment. The challenge of unleashing a generalistic AI into the homes of random consumers is much greater.
But what if DeepMind gets it done? What if, instead of Siri or Alexa, it’s the Google Assistant that becomes the world’s first AI assistant that can actually help in your daily life?
If DeepMind and Google succeed in turning the played-out, boring 2D idea of what a virtual assistant is into something that could potentially look like a real life assistant, everyone will forget about Siri. And Alexa. And any other “assistant” who can’t do what GATO can.
I’m not so sure DeepMind can do it, but I’m sure the odds increased by a large margin once the company signed a contract with the GANfather itself.
It’s your business Tim
At the end of the day, who knows what really happened at Apple. Maybe Goodfellow wasn’t happy, or maybe Apple wasn’t.
There’s no guarantee that DeepMind’s work will ever interfere with what Apple is trying to accomplish, although most of what everyone in the field is trying to accomplish involves some of Goodfellow’s ideas about deep learning.
And it’s also worth noting that great techs are constantly stripping talent from each other. Let’s not forget that Goodfellow left Google twice, once to join OpenAI and the second time Apple.
But the timing of his joining the DeepMind team is quite exciting. He is reportedly on board as an independent investigator. That sounds very much like he’s getting anything and everything he needs to do his best work.
Perhaps Apple CEO Tim Cook has good reasons for letting his star quarterback leave to join a rival team in the middle of the playoffs. It’s hard to see from our vantage point outside the Walled Gardens of the Cupertino Company, but it’s possible.
Whatever happens, it’s an exciting time for the field of AGI research. There’s no telling what Goodfellow and the DeepMind team can achieve together.
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