Facebook has named Courant Professor Yann LeCun the director of a new laboratory devoted to research in artificial intelligence and deep learning.
“As one of the most respected thinkers in this field, Yann has done groundbreaking research in deep learning and computer vision,” said Mike Schroepfer, Facebook’s chief technology officer. “We’re thrilled to welcome him to Facebook.”
Facebook is building the team across three locations: Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., New York City, and London.
Machine learning is a branch of artificial intelligence that involves computers “learning” to extract knowledge from massive data sets and rendering informed analyses and judgments, often predicting outcomes.
LeCun, a professor at NYU’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, is a pioneer in this growing field. In the 1980s, LeCun proposed one of the early versions of the back-propagation algorithm, the most popular method for training artificial neural networks. In the late 1980s and early 1990s at AT&T Bell Laboratories, he developed the convolutional network model—a pattern-recognition model whose architecture mimics, in part, the visual cortex of animals and humans. AT&T eventually deployed a check-reading system—based on this breakthrough—that by the late 1990s was reading about 20 percent of all the checks written in the U.S.
He is also one of the leading scientists in “deep learning”—a branch of machine learning in which researchers aim to emulate humans’ auditory and visual systems. Deep learning methods are used for a wide variety of applications—including speech and image recognition—by companies such as Google, NEC, Microsoft, IBM, and Baidu.
LeCun’s recent research projects include the application of such “deep learning” methods to visual scene understanding, visual navigation for autonomous ground robots, driverless cars, and small flying robots, speech recognition, and applications in biology and medicine.
LeCun’s Facebook appointment coincides with NYU’s growing commitment to this field of inquiry.
Earlier this year, NYU launched an Initiative in Data Science and Statistics that aims to harness today’s torrent of data in order to make advances in medicine, science, technology, business, and a range of other fields. The university-wide effort includes the Center for Data Science, of which LeCun is the founding director, and a masters degree program in this emerging academic discipline.
LeCun will remain at NYU’s Courant Institute, where he will continue his research and teaching, on a part-time basis. He will step down from his position as director of NYU’s Center for Data Science once a replacement has been tapped. He begins his tenure at Facebook on Jan. 1, 2014.