Google acquires Toronto University startup focused on neural networks

Researchers from the startup DNNresearch will at Google apply large-scale machine learning to a variety of domains

Google has acquired a startup from the computer science department of the University of Toronto to get key researchers in the area of deep neural networks.

The Internet company acquired DNNresearch, which was set up last year by Professor Geoffrey Hinton and two of his graduate students, Alex Krizhevsky and Ilya Sutskever, the University of Toronto said on Tuesday.

Hinton's research has implications for areas such as speech recognition, computer vision and language understanding, the university added. Krizhevsky and Sutskever, who will both be moving to Google, developed a system in the area of object recognition.

Unlike past neural networks, newer ones can have many layers and are called "deep neural networks."

Google confirmed that the three university researchers were joining the company, but did not provide further details such as the financial terms of the deal.

Hinton will divide his time between university research and his work at Google. He will work both at Google's Toronto office and several months of the year at Google's headquarters in Mountain View, California, the university said.

"I'll remain part-time at the University of Toronto, where I still have a lot of excellent graduate students, but at Google I will get to see what we can do with very large-scale computation," Hinton wrote in a post on Google+ on Tuesday.

Hinton spent several months last summer working with Google's Knowledge team in Mountain View, "working with Jeff Dean and an incredible group of scientists and engineers who have a real shot at making spectacular progress in machine learning." Together with Sutskever and Krizhevsky, Hinton is betting on Google's team to be the epicenter of future breakthroughs, he wrote in his post.

The three researchers from University of Toronto will at Google apply large-scale machine learning to a variety of domains, wrote Dean, a Google Fellow.

Google had earlier awarded a gift of about US$600,000 to Hinton's research group to support further work in the area of neural nets. It is also supporting research at the department in the area of machine-learning, but will have no control over the direction of the research, the university said.

The Internet giant's acquisitions have been many and in a diverse areas, and often it has acquired small companies more for their talented staff than for the technology.

It acquired, for example, Channel Intelligence, an e-commerce company, for $125 million in February. The acquisition of DNNresearch is not the first by the company in the area of recognition. Google owned Motorola Mobility acquired last year Viewdle, an imaging and gesture recognition company.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

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