Google just hired Tesla’s ex-Autopilot chief for its AI “Brain”

Chris Davies - Aug 14, 2017, 1:15pm CDT
Google just hired Tesla’s ex-Autopilot chief for its AI “Brain”

Google has snapped up the former head of Tesla’s Autopilot, with Chris Lattner joining the Google Brain deep learning artificial intelligence project. Lattner was, until recently, leading Tesla’s work on semi-autonomous and autonomous driving, having been recruited in January of this year. The electric car company has been one of the most ambitious in its public commitments to making driverless cars practical, with founder and CEO Elon Musk promising that Tesla vehicles being built today will be, with the right software and legal framework, capable of full Level 5 autonomy in the coming years.

Prior to his short stint at Tesla, Lattner was best known for his work at Apple. Spending eleven years in total at the Cupertino firm, he was most recentlySenior Director of the Developer Tools Department. During that time, he was primarily responsible for creating Swift, the programming language Apple pushed developers over to in 2014. Swift was made open-source in 2015.

Now it’s time for a completely new challenge, it seems. Lattner confirmed on Twitter this morning that he is starting a new role at Google Brain next week. “AI can’t democratize itself (yet?),” he said in his tweet, “so I’ll help make it more accessible to everyone!”

Google Brain certainly hasn’t picked an easy mission. The team is exploring ways to use artificial intelligence and machine learning to benefit humans, developing AIs that can more flexibly explore – and improve – upon their own features. Although officially a commercial enterprise within Google, Google Brain’s more product-focused outcomes have generally been integrated into other areas of the search giant’s business.

For instance, Google Translate began to use neural machine translation in 2016, a technology developed by Google Brain that can learn how to translate from one language to another from examples. More recent improvements to the system have produced an AI that, just by listening to audio in one dialect and corresponding text in another, can intuit the connection between the two. Google Brain technology is also found in Android’s speech recognition system, and helps power Google’s photo search.

What Lattner may be doing at Google Brain, exactly, remains to be seen. Arguably Swift’s defining feature was how much emphasis was placed on making it approachable to the largest possible cohort of potential users. That’s certainly not something you could say about current artificial intelligence, machine learning, and neural network platforms.

It may also bring Lattner into conflict with former boss Elon Musk, who has been an outspoken critic in recent years of unhampered AI and the danger it represents. While Musk backs OpenAI, which recently trained an artificial intelligence to beat an expert Dota 2 player, he’s also called for caution about the flourishing technology. Back in July, he and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg sparred on the topic, with the social network CEO arguing that Musk was too negative about AI’s potential benefits.

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