Amid all of the hype around artificial intelligence, there was a moment last year where something real and transformational happened, and that foreshadowed how powerful AI will one day become.
Google released a new version of Google Translate in September 2016, based on neural network technology. Several observers instantly recognized the update as a shocking step-function advancement in natural language translation abilities.
The project was led by Jeff Dean, one of Google’s earliest and most celebrated employees, who runs Google Brain. We’re delighted to announce that Dean will be speaking at our upcoming VB Summit on October 23-24 in Berkeley, our intimate, invite-only event for executives in Berkeley. The event focuses on applied machine intelligence in the business setting, and specifically projects getting a return on investment.
Many stories about AI in business are hyped — big on promise, but not yet generating any tangible profit or other benefit. The Translate project, led by Jeff Dean’s team at Google Brain, is an example of a project getting significant ROI; it’s now a paid API service generating real revenue. More significantly, though, the Google Translate project has helped accelerate Google’s own efforts to create a general AI platform to solve a host of other problems beyond translation. Dean will elaborate on areas Google is advancing here, and also about the service Google is building to help other companies do machine learning even if they don’t have the resources to hire data scientists.
Dean also pushed Google to build its own computer chip, the Tensor Processor Unit, to handle the massive compute power needed to run AI, starting with Google Translate. His group’s work is what’s transforming Google into an AI-first company, something Google CEO Sundar Pichai has emphasized over the past year.
The Google Translate project could also herald something bigger in the AI movement. The success of Dean’s Translate project was chronicled in an engaging article in the NYT in December, which concluded, headily, that machine translation is “perhaps the first step toward general computational facility with human language. This would represent a major inflection point — perhaps the major inflection point — in the development of something that felt like true artificial intelligence.”
The Google Translate project took a mere nine months, and created improvements that roughly equaled the total gains the Google Translate team made over the previous decade.
Even before the Google Translate feat last year, Dean had emerged as a rockstar within Google. He has been called Google’s most bad-ass engineer and the Chuck Norris of the internet. There’s a “Jeff Dean Facts” meme, written up by colleagues and other fans, which includes lines like: “When Graham Bell invented the telephone, he saw a missed call from Jeff Dean”; “Jeff Dean took the bite out of Apple’s logo”; and “Jeff Dean got promoted to level 11 in a system where max level is 10.” (That last one is true.)
We’ve got plenty of other action planned at the Summit. Check it out. Hope to see you there!