Google Brain: The First Large-Scale Neural Network

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Updated November 2, 2022

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The brain sure as hell doesn’t work by somebody programming in rules.Geoffrey Hinton*

Google Brain started as a research project between Google employees Jeff Dean and Greg Corrado and Stanford Professor Andrew Ng in 2011.* But Google Brain turned into much more than simply a project. By acquiring companies such as DeepMind and key AI personnel like Geoffrey Hinton, Google has become a formidable player in advancing this field.

One of the early key milestones of deep neural networks resulted from the initial research led by Ng when he decided to process YouTube videos and feed them to a deep neural network.* Over the course of three days, he fed 10 million YouTube videos* to 1,000 computers with 16 cores each, using the 16,000 computer processors as a neural network to learn the common features in these videos. After being presented with a list of 20,000 different objects, the system recognized pictures of cats and around 3,000 other objects. It started to recognize 16% of the objects without any input from humans.

The same software that recognized cats was able to detect faces with 81.7% accuracy and human body parts with 76.7% accuracy.* With only the data, the neural network learned to recognize images. It was the first time that such a massive amount of data was used to train a neural network. This would become the standard practice for years to come. The researchers made an interesting observation, “It is worth noting that our network is still tiny compared to the human visual cortex, which is times larger in terms of the number of neurons and synapses.”*

DeepMind: Learning from Experience

Demis Hassabis was a child prodigy in chess, reaching the Master standard at age 13, the second highest-rated player in the World Under-14 category, and also “cashed at the World Series of Poker six times including in the Main Event.”* In 1994 at 18, he began his computer games career co-designing and programming the classic game Theme Park, which sold millions of copies.* He then became the head of AI development for an iconic game called Black & White at Lionhead Studios. Hassabis earned his PhD from the University College London in cognitive neuroscience in 2009.

Figure: Demis Hassabis, CEO of DeepMind.

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